Original article can be found at the Inly News & Events archives page.

Author of “11 Planets” at Inly

May 23, 2008

Upper Elementary students were treated to a tour of the planets and latest galactic happenings last Tuesday morning, courtesy of David Aguilar, Director of Science Information at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The expert astronomer and author came to Inly to show off his new book, 11 Planets: A New View of the Solar System. Fresh off the press from the National Geographic Society, the book is packed with stunning photorealistic artwork (much of it created by Aguilar himself) and profiles all 11 planets in our newly categorized solar system: terrestrial Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars; gas giants Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune; and dwarf planets Pluto, Ceres, and Eris.

As expected, much of Aguilar’s talk focused on Pluto and the controversy over whether it’s really a planet or not. From an insider’s perspective, he explained the story of how the International Astronomical Union came to redefine the word “planet” in 2006 and relegated Pluto to the status of a dwarf planet, along with Ceres and Eris. He claimed it was a very small group of scientists who wanted Pluto, Ceres, and Eris “kicked out,” but that those people waited until the majority of scientists left the conference to vote.

Aguilar made his professional opinion clear: “Is a dwarf tree still a tree? Is a short person still a person?” He was one of the 4,000 scientists who later signed a petition to overturn the demotion of Pluto and to send the message loud and clear: “A planet is a planet!”

The students in grades 4—6 clearly enjoyed Aguilar’s stories about his work at the most advanced telescopes around the world, from Hawaii to Chile to the Hubble in outer space. And the Montessori teachers in the room were surely pleased when he added, “Here I have access to all these monster telescopes all over the world, but still my favorite thing is to build my own telescopes at home.” His advice to future scientists? “Read lots of books, and build things with your hands.

David Aguilar is Director of Science Information at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, MA. Previously, he was the Director of the Fiske Planetarium and Science Center at the University of Colorado. In addition to writing and making art about space, he loves building telescopes, leading astronomy expeditions, and telling people about the latest discoveries.