Books  Physical Sciences  Cosmology & Astronomy 

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

By: David A Weintraub

254 pages, 65 halftones, 7 line illus, 1 table

Princeton University Press

Paperback | Jan 2009 | #176266 | ISBN-13: 9780691138466
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £16.95 $21/€19 approx
Hardback | Nov 2006 | #160386 | ISBN: 0691123489
Out of Print Details

About this book

With the discovery of 2003 UB313 - an outer solar system object believed to be slightly larger than Pluto - 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, 2003 UB313 is more than twice as far from the Sun as Pluto. But Pluto itself has been subject to controversy since its discovery in 1930. 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 2003 UB313, 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.

About the Author:
David A. Weintraub is Professor of Astronomy at Vanderbilt University, which in 2003 honored him as the outstanding teacher in the College of Arts & Science.

David Weintraub sets the debate in its full context, and his views will be of interest to anyone who wants to know how our view of the universe around us has changed over time. -- Martin Ince Times Higher Education Supplement Vanderbilt astronomer Weintraub places the Pluto controversy in context in his judicious, lively account of the development of our solar system and the evolution of the meaning of the word planet... Weintraub effectively shows that Pluto is a planet by most definitions, but so are several other objects in the Kuiper asteroid belt. Weintraub's provocative, engaging study points to the richness and complexity of our solar system and its many possible planets. Publishers Weekly Well told... "Is Pluto a Planet?" ... provides a readable historical account of our knowledge of the Solar System and the concept of what has been considered to be a planet... Towards the end of this interesting book, Weintraub surprisingly concludes, despite the close analogy between the discovery of the asteroid and Kuiper belts, that we should retain Pluto as a planet by using three physical parameters of orbital characteristics, mass and roundness. -- Stuart Ross Taylor Nature David W. Weintraub's Is Pluto a Planet? A Historical Journey through the Solar System ... traces the history of how 'planet' has been defined over the centuries. Library Journal Book Blog Its status ambiguous ever since its discovery in 1930, hapless Pluto received an insult to its dignity when the International Astronomical Union (IAU) demoted it from planethood in August 2006. Weintraub, though, will not be stampeded as he methodically considers the historically evolving definitions of a planet... His survey of planetary discovery in hand, Weintraub delivers his answer to the title's question to cap an accessible, informative presentation of planetary astronomy. -- Gilbert Taylor Booklist Is Pluto a Planet? is ... [an] exceptional new book...The writing is both lively and precise, conveying both historical detail and scientific explanation in clear, understandable terms. His style respects the reader's intelligence without being either didactic or superior, and the exploration of discovery remains compelling chapter after chapter. -- Howard Shirley BookPage Weintraub's discussion of planetary discovery and categorization put the brouhaha over Pluto's planetary status into perspective. -- Carolyn Collins Petersen Sky & Telescope Weaving the history of our thinking about planets and cosmology into a single, remarkable story, this book 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. Lunar and Planetary Information Bulletin This excellent exploration of the history of planetary astronomy provides readers with enough information to attempt their own answer. The IAU will undoubtedly consider the definition of planet in 2009; all those voting in 2006 should have considered the issues in this book... Highly recommended. Choice This book takes a sensible historical (rather than hysterical) perspective... Is Pluto a Planet? is a comprehensive and desperately needed exploration of the subject and accessible to those without a prior knowledge of astronomy. -- Steve Ringwood Astronomy Now Weintraub argues that Pluto, and many of those objects, should be called planets. He lost that argument, but that doesn't take away from the book. He lays out in clear details the history of the discovery of the solar system. He discusses the mathematics in clear and concise detail so we don't get lost. And he covers all the arguments and gives a clear picture of learned humans struggling to understand the world around them. -- Terry England Santa Fe New Mexican Students and friends used to ask, 'What do you really know about UFOs?' Now they ask, 'What about Pluto?' Weintraub explains not only how such things are decided, but also how we have come to understand the structure of our solar system...For an investment in a well-written solar system and intellectual history, we recommend Is Pluto a Planet? -- Bruce L. Dietrich Planetarian A fascinating, accessible, and eminently readable historical introduction to the development of the planetary ideal. -- David W. Hughes The Observatory Few topics in planetary science have ignited as much public debate and outright acrimony as the recent decision by the International Astronomical Union to revoke Pluto's planetary status...This kind of fervor makes David A. Weintraub's Is Pluto a Planet? particularly timely in that it provides some much-needed perspective on the battle over the meaning of the term 'planet,' a battle that, as we often forget, has been going on as long as astronomy itself...[T]here is much to recommend in Is Pluto a Planet? Weintraub's history of the term 'planet' is well told and interesting, and the narrative successfully walks readers through many of the pros and cons of different planet definitions. It puts the current debate into context and demonstrates how the acceptance of the new over the old in astronomy is driven or deterred as much by human foibles as by new information... -- William F. Bottke Physics Today


PREFACE ix Chapter 1: What Is a Planet? 1 Chapter 2: Seven Perfect Planets Made of Aether 6 Chapter 3: The Earth Becomes a Planet 36 Chapter 4: Sixteen Planets 59 Chapter 5: Not Everything That Orbits the Sun Is a Planet 71 Chapter 6: Uranus! 82 Chapter 7: The Celestial Police 95 Chapter 8: Neptune, the Thirteenth Planet 107 Chapter 9: Easy Come, Easy Go 121 Chapter 10: Pluto, the Fourth Ninth Planet 130 Chapter 11: Hidden Secrets of the Outer Solar System 148 Chapter 12: The Plutinos 167 Chapter 13: Is Pluto a Planet? 179 Chapter 14: Goldilocks 185 POSTSCRIPT: Current Thoughts by Other Astronomers 222 APPENDIX: What We Know about Pluto 232 NOTES 243 INDEX 249

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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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