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article imageWoman Who Named Pluto at 11, Dies at 90

By Sandy Sand     May 11, 2009 in Science
Planets are named after mythological gods, not Disney dogs, and to her dying day at age 90, Venetia Burney Phair of Epson, England, insisted she did not come up with the name “Pluto” because of Disney’s cartoon dog.
A devotee of mythology at a young age, Phair, accidentally named the planet Pluto when she was 11-years-old.
Her grandfather read her the story of the newly found planet while they were having breakfast, and announced that the Royal Astronomical Society was looking for a name for it.
Phair remembered the movie “Naming Pluto,” and mentioned it to her grandfather, Falconer Madan, a retired librarian of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. She suggested they could name it Pluto, the Greek name for the Roman god of the underworld.
Like a child’s game of Telephone, her grandfather told his friend Herbert Hall Turner, a professor of astronomy at Oxford, who coincidently was meeting with the Royal Astronomical Society that day.
Turner, in turn, passed the suggestion on to Clyde W. Tombaugh, who made the discovery at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona.
When the name of the new planet (now demoted to dwarf planet, which in no way is related to other Disney characters) was announced on May 1, 1930, Phair’s grandfather rewarded her with a five-pound note.
More about Pluto, Planet, Naming, Penetia phair
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