The Planet Hunter: The Story Behind What Happened to Pluto
by Elizabeth Rusch; illustrated by Guy Francis
I boast a stargazer or two in my household. My son has rocket ship sheets on his bed, glowing stars on his wall and a real telescope my husband props on the balcony when they feel like braving the icy winds off Lake Michigan.
This book didn't last two seconds out of the package before both my little spaceman and my big one were hunched over it, reading, pointing and exclaiming. Something about the hubbub over Pluto really gets amateur astronomers going, and mine aren't the only ones.
In case you've been living on an asteroid, Pluto got bumped from the planet club last year after astronomers decided there were too many other Pluto-esque balls of ice and rock floating around the same neighborhood. It just wasn't special enough after all.
Nothing could make such a phenomenon hit closer than dramatizing it as a personal quest. Rusch cuts through the science and brings us a gripping, highly readable story of one persistent, likable young astronomer determined to find another planet in the Kuiper belt at the very fringes of the solar system.
We follow Mike Brown from his boyhood making moon craters in his muddy backyard to his adult years and the ingenious system he developed to detect new heavenly bodies using an old observatory telescope. How exciting to see his discoveries one by one, laid out in funny side notes that explain their names (he dubbed one "Santa" after the red-suited Christmas visitor) and some weird facts about them. We feel his excitement--and determination--build as he wonders what, exactly, he's stumbled upon.
There's no ending to spoil; Brown's adventures go on and on. Somewhere out there, peering into space, the man who forced a re-examining of certain celestial truths is still happily mapping his piece of heaven.