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A reminder: still doing reviews out of order, still somewhat behind, still reading a book every day. I hope to be caught up tomorrow or the day after.

I had been tangentially aware of the astronomer Mike Brown, and that he discovers objects in the Kuiper Belt, because of [personal profile] sovay winning the contest he held to name the moon of the dwarf planet Orcus; she named it Vanth.

I also vaguely remember the press surrounding the time when there were briefly maybe ten planets, and then maybe nine, and then Pluto was demoted and we wound up with eight. I had not remembered that that was sparked by Mike Brown's discovery of a larger object than Pluto beyond Pluto's orbit-- the not-actually-tenth planet.

Now he's written this fascinating, charming, and funny memoir about that period, and I can't recommend it too highly. This book really has everything; it's a neat portrait of how a working astronomer goes about things (the ins and outs of telescopes, telescope time, travel to odd bits of the world to use telescopes, computer programming, a lot of staring at sky photos), but also covers interactions with the press, his marriage and the birth of his daughter (which, surprisingly for this sort of memoir, are covered in a way which weaves neatly in and out of the astronomy and adds to it rather than detracting), and a truly amazing incident involving some Spanish astronomers, an internet chat group, and data theft, which I will not attempt to describe. His explanations of the issues surrounding the definition of the word 'planet' are clear and well-argued, as are his summaries of the ways things could have gone and the way they did go.

And throughout it all, he comes across as a good man and a good scientist, a person who is doing what he loves, and loves what he is doing, and who has the kind of infectious delight in his work that must make him an interesting professor.

This book is so lovely that I forgive, although I could not help but notice, a minor error early on in his description of the Norse mythology behind the names of the days of the week. Thor is not, and never has been, the king of the gods.

Apart from that, this is one of the best things I've read in a very long time, and I profoundly hope he writes more books; this is the sort of writing on science that will be a treasure for many years to come, and is definitely the thing you want to hand people when they ask why we used to have nine planets and nowadays have eight.


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March 2017

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