May 12, 2009
The "trans-Neptunian body," once known and loved as the solar system's ninth planet, was confirmed in photographs in February 1930. But what to call this cold, distant planet? To an 11-year-old British girl, the name was obvious: Pluto, after the mythical Roman god of the underworld.
Venetia Phair (née Burney), who died last month in Banstead, England at age 90, was eating breakfast with her mother and grandfather on March 14, 1930, the day papers reported the new planet, The New York Times writes. The girl suggested it be named Pluto, and her grandfather, a retired librarian at Oxford, mentioned the moniker to an astronomy professor there, who liked it so much, he fired a telegram off to the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., where the discovery was made.
Aug 14, 2008 | 2
Many researchers were none too happy when the International Astronomical Union (IAU) voted in 2006 to cast Pluto out from among the planets, demoting it along with similar bodies in the solar system to the status of mere dwarf planets.
Some of them would still like to reverse that decision, or at least convince the public that the IAU process did not reflect the give and take of workaday science. Hence "The Great Planet Debate: Science as Process," a three-day conference under way right now at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).
As I write, conference co-organizer and vocal Pluto booster Mark Sykes, director of the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona, is set to duke it out this afternoon in a public debate with dwarf planet-proponent Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the American Museum of Natural History's Hayden Planetarium in New York.
Jul 21, 2008
Astronomers have upgraded a distant rock discovered in 2005 to the category of dwarf planet, the controversial designation created two years ago by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to deal with planetlike bodies far out in the solar system. The IAU decided at a meeting last week that the object formerly known as 2005 FY9 (or unofficially, "easterbunny") will henceforth be known as Makemake (pronounced MAH-kee MAH-kee) for the Polynesian god of fertility and creator of humanity. That makes it the fourth dwarf planet, joining Ceres, Eris and Pluto, and the third "plutoid," or dwarf planet beyond Neptune. (Ceres resides in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.) Slightly smaller than Pluto and nearly as bright, reddish Makemake is one of the largest objects in the outer solar system. Its discovery along with that of Eris and similar specimens precipitated the IAU's decision to create a separate category for round objects in the solar system that have not swept clear their regions of competing debris, which led to Pluto's demotion from planet to dwarf.
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