Neil deGrasse Tyson: Dogging Pluto
What could Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist with the American Museum of Natural History and director of the Hayden Planetarium, have done to garner hate letters from countless elementary school children?
He was the head of the committee that demoted that far-out ice ball in the outer solar system, Pluto, from its status as a planet.
Pluto is now considered a dwarf planet (which is not considered a type of planet) and part of the Kuiper Belt, which is similar to an asteroid belt.
Recently, Tyson took what he knew about Pluto and turned it into a new book, The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of Americas Favorite Planet.It was cathartic, he says, I said, I cant be the only one in the world who knows whats in this file. I felt compelled and duteous to weave it all together in a sort of firsthand account - what went on here and what role I did and did not play in the demotion of Pluto.
Tyson is able to create a narrative that takes people through Plutos story that is accessible for both science fiends as well as the layperson. The text is supplemented with numerous photos, pictures and editorial cartoons to bolster the information.
I wanted to make sure you could learn some real science, not only from the history of Pluto, but about Pluto as a cosmic object, he says. A lot of the science is fun. There are a lot of interesting stories to tell about who made the discoveries and why and what the consequences were.
For example, Pluto, discovered on Feb. 18, 1930, was named by an 11-year-old girl from England. In America, during the 1920s when Pluto was discovered, the was a laxative called Pluto Water, so, as Tyson points out, no American would have named the thing Pluto because they would have been distracted by their bowels.
So what makes Pluto so dang popular, even more so than Tysons favorite, the majestic and beautifully ringed Saturn?
Its got to be the dog, Tyson says. I have no other explanation.
You can pretend you dont know whom hes talking about, but weve all grown up on the yellow bloodhound hanging out with Mickey Mouse.
The dog has the same tenure in the hearts and minds of Americans, having been drawn the same year the cosmic object was discovered, Tyson says. So theyve been with us for the same amount of time. Blame the dog.
Will the Pluto controversy renew interest in space?
Space travel used to be front-page news and schools would stop everything to allow students to watch shuttle launches on television. These days, shuttle launches go unnoticed.
Consider that back in the 1960s it was imagined that the future space travel would be routine, says Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium. So now it is the future and now it is sort of routine, so we shouldnt somehow now be surprised that no one takes notice of a shuttle launch.
Tyson says that when the space program does something that is not routine, it will cause the populace to take notice.
The fact that there was so much attention given to a rather innocent scientific issue the classification of Pluto it alerts us of the appetite that the public has for cosmic subjects, Tyson says.