Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Woman Who Named the Ninth Planet 'Pluto'

Not so widely known is the fact Venetia Burney Phair is responsible for naming the ninth planet in our Solar System. And if you think Pluto is named for a long forgotten god---well, as it turns out, you're right.

Phair was only 11 when the icy, quasi-planet was discovered, and heard the news from her grandfather, a librarian and friends with noted astronomers of the day. He read her the news over breakfast and wondered aloud what it would be called. Phair piped up that it should be Pluto simply because as most other planets had been named for Greek gods, none had used the name Pluto. It was that easy.

But it's a wonderful story to hear anyway, she sounds like a sweet lady. She whole-heartedly endorses the New Horizons project and wishes them "best of luck." She also shares her family history of naming astronomical objects, relating the tale of an uncle who named the moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos.
The interview is stored as a NASA podcast. Or read the short (but complete) transcript here.

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