Pluto’s rather unceremonious demotion from planet to dwarf planet was kind of a bummer, and as with all of life’s bummers, somebody’s gotta figure out how to explain it to the kids. Paul Halpern, professor of physics at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, takes a swing at the issue with his new children’s book, What’s the Matter with Pluto?, illustrated by Vance Lehmkuhl, whom readers may remember for his How-To Harry comics in City Paper.
“The book shows what it means to be a planet and how the planets have different properties,” says Halpern. “When Pluto comes along, readers learn why it is so different through the reactions of the other planets.”
Although he’s written 14 serious books on heady topics like higher dimensions, particle physics and dark matter, Halpern figured children would sympathize with Pluto.“It is a common childhood experience, unfortunately, to feel left out — for instance, not to get picked for a team,” he says. “Pluto has the misfortune of not fitting into either planetary team: the gas giants or the smaller planets. Kids want to see justice happen, and in the end Pluto finds a way of making friends and heading its own group.”
Halpern’s fond of Pluto himself. “Having interviewed Clyde Tombaugh, Pluto’s discoverer, shortly before his death — and hearing about his strong affection for the object he found — I was certainly rooting for Pluto to keep its status.”
Which is not to say he objects to the reclassification. “As astronomy develops, objects sometimes get put into new categories. A classic example is Andromeda, which used to be called a nebula until astronomers realized that it was an entire galaxy.”
Paul Halpern and Vance Lehmkuhl will read and sign Sun., Nov. 10, 2 p.m., free, Saxbys, 346 Lancaster Ave., Haverford, 484-416-3781, phalpern.com.
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