How I killed Pluto and Dragons of Eden – Book Review

I love reading non-fiction books, especially those on science. That should explain why I always expected and was excited to receive encyclopedias as my birthday gifts from my parents. Every year they would give me some series of books or some huge encyclopedia, mostly on science. I told you I am a nerd 😀 This year I read two great non-fiction books which I just loved.

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming

Author: Mike Brown 7963278

Most of us have studied 9 planets in school and now suddenly one of them is dead, no longer considered a planet. Pluto which was a planet, is no longer a planet. Now there are only 8 planets. This book talks about how Mike Brown discovered an object (nicknamed Xena) which was larger than Pluto and how that put an end to the planet status for Pluto. Pluto is just one of the objects in Kuiper belt.

What I really loved about the book was the way he described how he actually found the objects. I mean, how does a real astronomer search for objects in the sky? Using a telescope, how do you exactly pinpoint and say that this is a new object in the sky? How do you differentiate a planet from a star in the sky? I just loved the way he took us through the whole process. You look for objects that have moved in the sky, by looking at photos from last year or a decade. I had no idea that something called the Palomer observatory sky survey(POSS) which had pictures of every patch of sky is used by astronomers. Your findings can be then verified with the help of Hubble space telescope. He also talks about the amazing telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii and how the telescope is controlled remotely.

“If something is moving under the influence of gravity alone, we need only to know:

  1. precisely where the object is
  2. precisely how fast it is going
  3. precisely what direction it is moving in

to know where it was at all the times in the past and where it will be in the future.”

The objects that Mike has discovered in Kuiper belt and has described in the book are:

  1. Object X : Quaoar – half the size of Pluto
  2. Flying Dutchman or Dutch : Sedna – extremely elongated orbit, three-quarters the size of Pluto
  3. Santa : Haumea, 2003 EL61, moons are Hi’iaka and Namaka – smaller than Pluto, oblong and tumbling end over end.
  4. Xena : Eris, 2003 UB313 – looks like Pluto and bigger than Pluto
  5. Easterbunny : Makemake

He also talks about how Santa’s existence was announced by a Spanish University and how those people actually stole the information about Santa and claimed that they had discovered it. Once Xena, which might be bigger than Pluto was discovered, the question on everybody’s mind was

“How would you know if something new was a planet?”. And “if Pluto was a planet, why were the many things just a little smaller than Pluto not considered planets?”.

International Astronomical Union (IAU) finally declared that Pluto was not a planet and so were the other objects in the Kuiper Belt. I had no idea that Ceres, one of the objects in the asteroid belt that exists between Mars and Jupiter was a planet sometime back. The book is very interesting and after a point, even you start questioning the term “Planets”. Mike gives a very good explanation of why the other 8 are planets, and why Pluto, Charon and Ceres are not. It also talks about how many people were not happy with this new definition of planets.

One and only grouse I had with the book was that we were talking about science and suddenly the context switches to Mike’s personal life and his family. I found that little distracting. I know it is more of a memoir than a science book. But still… the book is simply great! I loved it.

I then searched and made a list of all the people who have discovered Planets in the past:

  1. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were visible through naked eyes and these are the only planets in Hindu Navagraha (9 Planets). The rest of them are Moon and Sun which they considered to be planets.
  2. Uranus : discovered in 1781 by William Herschel
  3. Neptune : discovered in 1846 by 4 people : Johann Gottfried Galle, Heinrich Louis d’Arrest, Urbain Le Verrier, John Couch Adams.
  4. Pluto : discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh.
  5. Charon: Pluto’s moon was discovered in 1978 by James Christy
  6. Ceres: discovered in 1801  by Giuseppe Piazzi
  7. Pallas : discovered in 1802 by Heinrich Olbers. Ceres and Pallas are part of the asteroid belt.

 This article is great with some videos and pictures:  Why Pluto is No Longer a Planet. I took the above picture from that website.

A video somebody posted the link to : Youtube video This review by S.Krishna made me pick the book: Review I watched this video by Nova long back, before reading the book. It is a great video:  The Pluto files.

The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence

Author: Carl Sagan Pulitzer Prize Winner 32276

“Chimpanzees can abstract. Like other mammals, they are capable of strong emotions. Why, exactly, all over the civilized world, in virtually every major city, are apes in prison?” “Humans have systematically exterminated those other primates who displayed signs of intelligence.”

Carl Sagan is the best science teacher one can ever get. Even though I am not a biology major, I was able to enjoy this book. A great book where he talks about EVERYTHING that you ever wanted to know about your brain. Probably one of the best non-fictions I have ever read. Some information that made me love this book:

  • how much information do our genes carry
  • evolution of human brain
  • various components of human brain
  • right and left hemisphere of brains
  • what exactly is intuitiveness
  • why do humans and other mammals sleep
  • difference between dream sleep and dreamless sleep
  • REM sleep
  • what do our dreams mean
  • why do some people sleep for longer time while some sleep for lesser time
  • extraterrestrial intelligence
  • what causes some of the mental illnesses
  • why animals cannot talk
  • Reptiles vs Mammals

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