Friday, October 06, 2006

Pluto's a dog not a planet; or poor, poor Percival Lowell

This week i had to go through all our solar system books and place stickers on them explaining the August 8, 2006 decision of the International Astronomical Union to redefine the status of Pluto as a "dwarf planet" and not a "planet". In the process i came across a few books i just had to read (you know how it is) including Ten Worlds: Everything that Orbits the Sun by Ken Croswell. Not quite sure why this particular juvenile title perked my interest except like many juvenile books it gives you just the right amount of interesting introductory information without boring you beyond belief. It covers the solar system; the sun; Mercury; Venus; the earth; the Moon; Mars; asteroids; Jupiter; Saturn; Uranus; Neptune; Pluto; the tenth Planet; comets; meteors; the solar systems birth; the ten planets; the seven big moons; the first four asteroids; and extreme planets (yes i just gave you the table of contents--good thing i'm not doing a school report here right?) But it does have some beautiful pictures and did tell me some interesting things i did not know (so much for that college astronomy class).
And about Percival Lowell: the poor guy kept trying and he kept failing. First he thought he saw canals on Mars--waterways the Martians had built--other astronomers made fun of him. To prove he was a good astronomer he wanted to discover a new planet, studying the motion of Uranus he believed the gravity of a ninth planet was pulling it--he searched and searched but never found it--he died in 1916. When a new planet was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh at Lowell Observatory on February 18, 1930 it was named Pluto at the suggestion of a little girl (for the god of the underworld--because he lives in darkness as does the planet being so far from the sun) and because the first two letters were P L for Percival Lowell. Now with this downgrade poor Percival is foiled yet again.

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