523: The Pluto Files by Neil deGrasse Tyson


523.4922: Tyson, Neil deGrasse. The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet. New York: W.W. Norton, 2009. 176 pp. ISBN

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 500: Science
  • 520: Astronomy
  • 523: Specific celestial bodies and phenomena
  • 523.4: Planets, asteroids, and trans-Neptunian objects of the Solar system
  • 523.49: Trans-Neptunian objects
  • 523.492: Kuiper belt objects
  • 523.4922: Pluto

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Pluto Files claims to chronicle the history of the “planet” Pluto and it mostly accomplishes this feat. His history of the discovery of the last planet is a little thin, but there may not be much more to tell. Clyde Tombaugh discovered it while chasing Percival Lowell’s dream of a distant Planet X. Clyde’s find wound its way into the hearts and minds of many a schoolchild, but now there is a debate raging as to whether Pluto is really a planet at all. The bulk of Tyson’s story in confined to the last decade, when his new post as Director of Hayden Planetarium put him in charge of a new addition to the building. He decided, with the help of other scientists and a public panel on Pluto, to group planets into distinct characteristic groups: Terrestrial Planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars), Gas Giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus) and Kuiper Belt Objects (Pluto included). Then all hell broke loose. The Museum, a trusted institution, had neglected to count Pluto in the number of planets that everyone had grown up learning about. The debate included almost every astrophysicist alive, the International Astronomical Union, and even third-graders. In the end, the Tyson’s treatise is more about the definition of the word “planet” than the question surrounding the properties of Pluto. And while the IAU has formally created a definition, most of the scientists involved are more concerned about cataloging the properties and new knowledge about Pluto than about what to call it.

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