Is Pluto a Planet?: A Historical Journey through the Solar System

Princeton University Press
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A Note from the Author: On August 24, 2006, at the 26th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in Prague, by a majority vote of only the 424 members present, the IAU (an organization of over 10,000 members) passed a resolution defining planet in such a way as to exclude Pluto and established a new class of objects in the solar system to be called "dwarf planets," which was deliberately designed to include Pluto.

With the discovery of Eris (2003 UB313)--an outer solar system object thought to be both slightly larger than Pluto and twice as far from the Sun--astronomers have again been thrown into an age-old debate about what is and what is not a planet. One of many sizeable hunks of rock and ice in the Kuiper Belt, Eris has resisted easy classification and inspired much controversy over the definition of planethood. But, Pluto itself has been subject to controversy since its discovery in 1930, and questions over its status linger. Is it a planet? What exactly is a planet?



Is Pluto a Planet? tells the story of how the meaning of the word "planet" has changed from antiquity to the present day, as new objects in our solar system have been discovered. In lively, thoroughly accessible prose, David Weintraub provides the historical, philosophical, and astronomical background that allows us to decide for ourselves whether Pluto is indeed a planet.


The number of possible planets has ranged widely over the centuries, from five to seventeen. This book makes sense of it all--from the ancient Greeks' observation that some stars wander while others don't; to Copernicus, who made Earth a planet but rejected the Sun and the Moon; to the discoveries of comets, Uranus, Ceres, the asteroid belt, Neptune, Pluto, centaurs, the Kuiper Belt and Eris, and extrasolar planets.


Weaving the history of our thinking about planets and cosmology into a single, remarkable story, Is Pluto a Planet? is for all those who seek a fuller understanding of the science surrounding both Pluto and the provocative recent discoveries in our outer solar system.

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About the author

David A. Weintraub is Professor of Astronomy at Vanderbilt University, which in 2003 honored him with the Jeffrey Nordhaus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jun 12, 2014
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Pages
280
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ISBN
9781400852970
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Language
English
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Genres
Nature / Sky Observation
Science / Astronomy
Science / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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When the International Astronomical Union adopted a new definition of a "planet" in August 2006, Pluto became a dwarf planet, drawing a divisive line in science and public opinions. The controversy of whether Pluto is a planet continues years later, and passion about the decision remains, pitting scientist against scientist and invoking sentiments and nostalgia from the rest of the world.

With the IAU definition, the future of space objects is forever changed. Learn how this resolution came to be and what it means for astronomy, who implemented it and who is against it, and whether it's the first or millionth time the world's view of astronomy has rotated on its axis.

Written by an astronomer and educator who voted for the IAU resolution--Laurence A. Marschall—and a NASA scientist who supported the opposing petition that resulted—Stephen P. Maran—Pluto Confidential leaves no perspective out and no asteroid unturned in the Pluto debate.

A telescopic look inside the book:
History of planetary disputes, including why Jupiter almost wasn't acknowledged
What Bode's Law is and how it has influenced observations
Who discovered Pluto and how it was named
The Kuiper Belt and its role in what it means to be a planet
Beyond Pluto and the eight distinguished planets

From Astronomy Today:
"Overall, this is a highly readable book which engages, without overpowering, the reader.… The authors' opposing views on Pluto's status in the final chapter provides a calm reasoned exploration of the arguments. This is a neat conclusion …”
The story of the search for life on Mars—and the moral issues confronting us as we prepare to send humans there

Does life exist on Mars? The question has captivated humans for centuries, but today it has taken on new urgency. NASA plans to send astronauts to Mars orbit by the 2030s. SpaceX wants to go by 2024, while Mars One wants to land a permanent settlement there in 2032. As we gear up for missions like these, we have a responsibility to think deeply about what kinds of life may already inhabit the planet--and whether we have the right to invite ourselves in. This book tells the complete story of the quest to answer one of the most tantalizing questions in astronomy. But it is more than a history. Life on Mars explains what we need to know before we go.

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The age of our universe poses a deceptively simple question, and its answer carries profound implications for science, religion, and philosophy. David Weintraub traces the centuries-old quest by astronomers to fathom the secrets of the nighttime sky. Describing the achievements of the visionaries whose discoveries collectively unveiled a fundamental mystery, he shows how many independent lines of inquiry and much painstakingly gathered evidence, when fitted together like pieces in a cosmic puzzle, led to the long-sought answer. Astronomers don't believe the universe is 13.7 billion years old--they know it. You will too after reading this book. By focusing on one of the most crucial questions about the universe and challenging readers to understand the answer, Weintraub familiarizes readers with the ideas and phenomena at the heart of modern astronomy, including red giants and white dwarfs, cepheid variable stars and supernovae, clusters of galaxies, gravitational lensing, dark matter, dark energy and the accelerating universe--and much more. Offering a unique historical approach to astronomy, How Old Is the Universe? sheds light on the inner workings of scientific inquiry and reveals how astronomers grapple with deep questions about the physical nature of our universe.

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