Everything you know about Pluto is probably wrong. Just ask a kid. Kids are much more up-to-date with knowledge about space and dinosaurs and other cool stuff we grown-ups haven’t read about in … well, since we were kids.
That’s why Dean Regas, the astronomer of the Cincinnati Observatory, wrote the book, “How to Teach Grown-Ups About Pluto.”
With humor and wit, accompanied by delightfully whimsical drawings by Aaron Blecha, Regas guides kids through the history of Pluto’s discovery, its controversial demotion and the five stages of grief when people of a certain age found out Pluto is no longer a planet. Plus there’s the latest about other objects in our solar system, like the far-out Sedna more than 7 billion miles away.
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My 11-year-old daughter, Dashiell, read the book first and would stop to tell me, “Do you know how many years it takes for Pluto to go around the sun?” It’s 248 years. Be warned: there’s a quiz.
“Grown-ups have to take a quiz!” Dashiell said, stifling a laugh.
Then we sat down to interview Regas about his new book. Here are the best bits of our conversation.
Dashiell: What inspired you to write this book?
Rules: I think it was when I would give presentations about astronomy to kids. They would be really excited about space and come up to me afterwards and say all the great things they’re learning about. Then an adult would interrupt to say, “Yeah, but Pluto should still be a planet.” Oh my gosh, that’s really rude, first off. But then, we were talking about other stuff and it made me feel kind of bad for the kids who have moved on, who know Pluto is not a planet and it’s fine. There’s a big difference between what kids think about space and what adults think about space. I wanted a book for kids to help teach the grown-ups. Do you feel like you could teach your dad?
Rules: The book is supposed to be for kids, but I think it’s kind of a neat way for adults to learn at the same time.
Dashiell: What made you change your mind about Pluto?
Rules: That’s a really good question. I’m glad you caught that in the book because a lot of people think that I’m just against Pluto, that I don’t like it all, and that’s not true. I like Pluto a lot. I think it’s a cool world. So, I really was not excited about the people talking about Pluto not being a planet. The guy that really changed it for me was astronomer Mike Brown, the guy who found Eris, Sedna, Haumea, Makemake and all these other cool worlds. He told me about the history, that asteroids used to be planets and they got kicked out of the planet club a long time ago. I have made a really neat definition of planets that I’ll never forget. “A planet is a big, important thing.” He wished he would have found an important thing, but he didn’t feel right to call himself the discoverer of a planet. He could have been the most famous planetary discoverer, and he gave it all up. That really made a big impact on me. Ever since then, I’ve seen it a little more clearly.
Dashiell: What’s your favorite planet?
Rules: I like living on Earth, that’s for sure. But, I think if I really want to be honest, I’d say Saturn is my favorite planet.
Rules: Because of the beautiful rings, so many moons. I would love to, in my dreams, go flying around the rings of Saturn. I think that would be the coolest thing.
Dashiell: If you could name a planet, what name would you choose?
Rules: Oh wow, that’s a really tough question. I never thought of that, to actually name it. Boy, hmm, I have no idea. The tradition is to name it for something from mythology, but a lot of them have already been taken. What would you think? Do you have some ideas, because I might need some help.
Rules: That’s pretty good. I don’t even know if there’s an asteroid named Perseus. He’s one of my favorites from mythology. Medusa would be kind of a cool name for a really harsh-looking planet. You talked me into it. Perseus sounds like a really good one.
Grown-up: Dashiell has been really into mythology lately.
Rules: Do you know about Eris, the one dwarf planet? That was named after the goddess of –
Rules: Trouble and chaos, that’s right. Exactly. Did I put in the book who they really wanted to name it after?
Rules: They really wanted to name it after Xena. There’s an old television show about Xena, the warrior princess. They decided that it was probably not good to name it after a TV show, so they went with Eris. You have to tell me, do you know the pictures of the five stages of grief about Pluto? Is your dad in one of those pictures? Have you accepted that Pluto is not a planet?
Dashiell: Uh, no.
Rules: So, would you say he’s in denial? Is he angry?
Dashiell: I don’t know. Bargaining?
Grown-up: I think the book put me a lot more toward acceptance. There are a lot of things that are scientifically different than how we think of them.
Rules: That’s true.
Grown-up: A tomato is a fruit, but we treat it like a vegetable. A koala is a marsupial, not a bear. But Pluto is important to still talk about, even if it is not a planet. Although it’s a dwarf planet, so planet is still in the term.
Dashiell: Dad, don’t include the tomato thing.
Grown-up: OK, I won’t.
Rules: I think the debate about Pluto is really good. The more we talk about it, the more it gets people interested in the subject. I’m not against debating Pluto’s planethood. I think it shows you the history of science is an ever-changing thing. Who knows, it might change again. If we were to find Pluto today, nobody would think it was a planet. But for some reason, people love Pluto and just associate with it so much. Those people, I’m sorry to say, are grown-ups.
Meet the author
Dean Regas will be signing copies of “How to Teach Grown-Ups About Pluto,” June 5, 2 pm, at Cincinnati Observatory, 3489 Observatory Place, Mount Lookout.