The Pluto Files

Hate Mail from Third Graders

"It's not easy being a public enemy," writes Neil deGrasse Tyson in his book The Pluto Files. When Neil's museum grouped Pluto not among the planets but rather with icy comets in an obscure region called the Kuiper Belt, he heard from thousands of outraged Pluto defenders. It's tough being called a heartless Pluto-hater, particularly by a dismayed eight-year-old. Below, peruse a few of the letters elementary schoolkids sent Neil, and see how their tone shifted over the years, as the public slowly came to accept Pluto's fall from planethood.—Susan K. Lewis

Note: The correspondence in this slide show originally appeared in The Pluto Files (Norton, 2009).


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Will's lament
March 25, 2000

The American Museum of Natural History opened its new Rose Center for Earth and Space on February 19, 2000. A month later, Neil received this letter from a perceptive seven-year-old named Will Galmot, who had noticed Pluto's conspicuous absence from the exhibit area featuring models of the planets. He was the first person to write about the matter, which would otherwise remain out of the limelight for almost a year.



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Will's lament
(with illustration)

In case Neil and his colleagues needed assistance to make a model of Pluto, Will provided a drawing.



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John's poll
November 18, 2004

On January 22, 2001, nearly a year after the exhibit opened, the New York Times ran a front-page story headlined: "Pluto's Not a Planet? Only in New York." An all-out media frenzy ensued, and for several years thereafter, Neil's in-box overflowed with e-mail from upset Plutophiles. Six-year-old John Glidden even took it upon himself to conduct a poll.



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Madeline's protest
September 19, 2006

The debate over Pluto's status continued to percolate, but in August 2006 the International Astronomical Union took a key vote that officially knocked Pluto out of the pantheon of planets. Young Madeline Trost of Plantation, Florida disagreed.



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Emerson's exclamations!!!
November 6, 2006

Emerson York's letter to Neil came packaged with a stack of similar missives written by Mrs. Debbie Dalton's third-grade class in the Warren L. Miller Elementary School, in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. Note the teary-eyed planets at bottom.



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Taylor's apology
March 26, 2008

By the spring of 2008, the mail Neil received from schoolkids and scientists alike generally had a conciliatory tone. With some notable exceptions (including the states of New Mexico and Illinois, both of which passed legislation declaring Pluto's full-planet stature), the public was coming to terms with Pluto's reclassification as a dwarf planet. Taylor Williams' note to Neil was particularly sweet.



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Siddiq's wisdom
March 26, 2008

Perhaps Siddiq Canty, a second grader at the Roland Lewis Elementary School in Tampa, Florida, summed up the brouhaha over Pluto best: "thats [sic] Science."



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