Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 3/12/2013
Once there was an icy dwarf planet at the edge of the solar system. Every day it would spin around the sun with his friends in the Kuiper belt. One day some scientists noticed that Pluto’s orbit might not be kosher. So, the scientists decided on a set of criteria for defining planets. Consequently, Pluto could no longer be classified as a planet. Until finally everyone was infuriated with astronomers.
Space history curators at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum decided to explain the planet’s reclassification with the release of a children’s science book, Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery.
Margaret Weitekamp, Ph.D. teamed with David DeVorkin, Ph.D. and award-winning children’s book illustrator Diane Kidd to write this charming narrative of Pluto’s predicament based on what we now know of planetary science and space history.
Kidd’s clever watercolor and ink illustrations draw young readers into the science and history of Pluto. On page 13 of the book, she recreates the famous Lowell Observatory discovery plates exposed at different times to show the movement of Pluto as a spot of light. The movement is what Clyde Tombaugh honed in on when he discovered Pluto in 1930.
The text is a splendid mashup of expository and story elements from Weitekamp and DeVorkin:
“The astronomers soon learned that Pluto did not always stay in its place. Sometimes it even switched places with Neptune, coming closer to the sun than Neptune did.”
“Hey!” yelled the astronomers. “Planets cannot do that!”
The book cites the research of Caltech astronomy professor Mike Brown in his book How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming (Spiegel & Grau, 2010) along with the journals Sky and Telescope and Astronomy. The narrative of the book is also backed by solid research on Pluto from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the Lowell Observatory, the International Astronomy Union and NASA.
Hayden Planetarium director Neil deGrasse Tyson was the science communicator most notorious for breaking the news about the reclassification of Pluto. Probably receiving the most hate mail, Tyson helped burn off the discomfort necessary to integrate new knowledge about the icy dwarf world into the collective mind.
Weitekamp and DeVorkin write that the scientists who instigated the reclassification had been looking at planets around others stars with orbits similar to Pluto. With advanced telescopes came the discovery of other icy worlds in the Kuiper belt just as big as Pluto. By 2006 astronomers established three criteria for a planet to be bonafide.
Budding astronomers who pick up this accessible picture book will learn why a planet orbits the sun, a planet is round and each planet is alone in its own orbit.
Pluto’s Secret by Margaret Weitekamp with David DeVorkin and illustrated by Diane Kidd is a highly worthwhile read on the reclassified icy dwarf world orbiting the Kuiper belt and a great addition to school library and science classroom collections.
Category: Juvenile Nonfiction, Astronomy