The Last of the Planet Namers

17 Jan, 2006 | Science And TechnologyTdp

This is what I love, finding out these strange little tidbits of information that usually slip you by, but are fairly awesome. The planet Pluto has been in the news a fair bit lately, mainly because NASA aims to send a mission out there sometime next week (New Horizons is no ordinary mission either, with the probe due to cover 4 billion miles and powered by a nuclear reactor) as well as having a few new moons discovered. Pluto's status as a planet has long been disputed, with many suggested it is merely a big object from the Kuiper belt (an asteroid field on the edge of our solar system). Pluto is named after the Roman god of the underworld, I know this because it says so in an article about Venetia Phair (formerly Venetia Burney), the last surviving namer of a planet.

I'd figured the people who named the planets had died long ago, but Venetia was 11 back in 1930 when Pluto was discovered. There was much debate about what to name it as many of the classical names had gone. She came up with the name one breakfast time when talking to her grandfather, who was a retired librarian at the Bodleian Library (part of Oxford University) and he passed on the suggestion to the professor of astronomy, who in turn thought it was a great idea and sent a telegram to the Lowell Observatory (where Pluto was first spotted).

And, despite what everyone thinks, Disney's Pluto was named after the planet.