How Mike Brown Killed Pluto


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The man who killed Pluto grew up in my hometown.

Strangely enough, I’m kinda proud of that.

I’ve been privileged to hear him speak twice, both times getting autographs — one in his book and one on a nine-planet solar system litho on which he X’d out Pluto.

Brown is an excellent speaker, both extremely knowledgeable in the subject matter but also an interesting and dynamic speaker. How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming is written in the same way. I could practically hear Brown speaking as I read because the written stories are presented much like stories told in his presentations.

The book is not just about Pluto or the discoveries that led to Pluto’s deplanetization. Brown blends in much of what was going on in his personal life at the time, namely meeting and marrying his wife (for which he later named a moon — can’t get much more romantic than that), and the birth of their daughter Lilah. These personal aspects of Brown’s life I find to be very relevant to what happened with the planets, and I’m glad he included them.

How I Killed Pluto is not a scientific volume but rather a story, and in it is described the many emotions and feelings of this time in Brown’s life. In that way, how could he possibly exclude that he was falling in love, getting married and having a daughter while discovering planets as his day job (well, technically night job).

The book follows Brown’s journey from his early interest in astronomy, to how it came about that he started searching for planets, through the many technological issues and advances that at times both helped and hindered his search. It also follows the controversy that resulted when Brown discovered what he hoped, initially, would be the solar system’s 10th planet. This discovery caused the biggest astronomy shake up in decades, and ultimately resulted in the redefinition of a planet.

This book and it’s story was interest of me mainly because of Brown’s connection to my hometown and because of hearing his lectures. However the subject of Pluto was also interesting to me because a few years ago I wrote the student article “What Is Pluto?” for NASA. I experienced a little bit of the controversy myself, having to carefully select the correct words and phrases as to not upset the Pluto-lovers who were not happy about its demotion and yet accurately inform the student audience for which I was writing about Pluto, it’s history and it’s controversy.

As a word person, I also find it quite funny that since all of this the English language has adopted a whole new word: plutoed, which means to demote or devalue someone or something. Plutoed was even named the 2006 Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society.

See why I think it’s cool that Mike Brown hails of Huntsville? A guy who grew up in the same place that I did — in the same place that my kids are growing up now — discovered new objects in space that led to the redefinition of a planet, a worldwide controversy, and the coining of a new word that became the Word of the Year!

I can only aspire to be a fraction as cool as that.

 

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