A few years ago, the astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson received an unusual letter.
Dear Dr Tyson, it began. When I was eight, I sent you a letter calling you a poo poo-head for demoting Pluto. I have since done my own research and I’ve come to agree with your decision. I apologise for making fun of you.
“It was a totally deadpan letter,” Tyson says. Hundreds of children had sent him letters when the Hayden Planetarium in New York — which Tyson has directed since 1996 — was the first to group Pluto not with the planets but with smaller icy bodies in the solar system. This was before Pluto was even officially declassified as a planet in 2006. “We were first out of the box,” he says. But, it seems, only one of these kids grew up and remembered to apologise.
The letter illustrates that astronomy can provoke amazement, awe and sometimes seemingly illogical responses — such as an emotional attachment to an ice ball floating 7.5 billion kilometres away in outer space.
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