Book 89: How I Killed Pluto And Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown

7963278Finished reading on November 25th, 2013 (my birthday! 🙂 )

Rating: 10/10

“How I Killed Pluto And Why It Had It Coming” by Mike Brown is a book about the discovery of some large icy objects in orbit around the Sun in the Kuiper belt. It tells the story of the discoveries of Sedna, Makemake, Haumea and Eris. You can find out how these objects were discovered and who were the scientists behind the discovery.

It is a rather personal account, as Mike Brown was the leading scientist working on trying to find other objects past the orbit of Pluto. Besides finding out his thoughts and feelings on those objects, there’s also quite an entertaining (for the reader, though it probably wasn’t too entertaining for the author) part about how Mike tried to use the scientific method for raising his newborn daughter. For example he tried to find out whether or not the baby sleeps longer when she’s been fed by her mother or when Mike just gives her the bottle. And the birth of Lilah (Mike’s daughter) coincides with the announcement of some of the objects so he has to deal with a lot of publicity. There’s also some drama involved with the discovery of one of the objects, but you can read more about that in the book.

Now one of the most important parts is the “killing Pluto” part. Do you have strong feelings for this dirty ice-ball? If you do, this book might not be for you, or maybe it might make one see reasons behind Pluto’s demotion… Mike Brown is “the killer of Pluto” because as there were new objects discovered near Pluto that were sometimes bigger than Pluto, then it became necessary to classify those objects. With asteroids it’s simple. But planets? Well the problem was that there was no definition for “planet”, only the concept of planet. And so when International Astronomical Union tries to get twelve planets into the Solar System, with Mike’s Eris being one of the planets, Mike starts an attack on the definition, showing why Pluto shouldn’t be a planet. And as you know, Pluto’s not a planet anymore, so if you want to know more about the back-story, of what happened and why it’s not a planet, read this book!

Book 88: The Unity of the Universe by D. W. Sciama


The Unity of the Universe by D. W. Sciama

Rating 8/10

Finished reading on November 23, 2013

The Unity of the Universe starts from finding out the scale of the Universe / from how to measure the circumference of the Earth, how to find out how far the Moon is and how to determine distances between the planets and the Sun. It then goes on with the measurement of the stellar parallax and how big the Milky Way galaxy is. What I found curious is also how the astronomers found out the shape of the Milky Way. Sure, there are lots of spiral galaxies around, but how do you actually determine a spiral shape when you’re in the galaxy?

This book was first published in 1959, so it makes for an interesting reading, as in 1959 the microwave background radiation was still 5 years in the future, so you can read both about the evolving universe theory and the steady state theory of the Universe. Plus there’s a little about the formation of the galaxies and the chemical elements, so it’s quite interesting. And naturally general theory of relativity! So there’s all the essentials in this rather short book with clear and simple illustrations and not too much mathematics is needed to understand everything.

Dennis William Sciama was a British physicist, who did his doctoral thesis under Paul Dirac (you can find a review of one of his biographies “The Strangest Man” here) and is considered one of the fathers of modern cosmology. And Stephen Hawking and Martin Rees were some of his doctoral students.