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New Names for Dwarf Planets

And a number for Pluto, no longer a classic

September 18 , 2006

This artist's concept shows the dwarf planet Eris
This artist's concept shows the dwarf planet Eris (originally named Xena) at the outer fringes of our solar system. Our sun can be seen in the distance. (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

By Suzanne Freeman

September 14, 2006

The world’s astronomers are not through making changes to our solar system. Recently, the International Astronomical Union demoted Pluto from a classic planet to a dwarf planet. Then they gave Pluto a number, since it is not the only dwarf out there. Now they are renaming the other recently discovered dwarf planets.

Xena was renamed Eris on Thursday. The dwarf planet was first named for a TV series warrior princess. The new name comes from Greek mythology. Eris is the goddess of discord and strife.

“It is absolutely the perfect name,” said Dr. Michael E. Brown, a professor of planetary astronomy at the California Institute of Technology. “She causes strife by causing arguments among men, by making them think their opinions are right and everyone else’s is wrong. It really is just perfect.”

Brown discovered and named Xena in the first place. He liked the name because of the X. The X referred to a theoretical planet not yet discovered. Astronomers refer to a possible 10th planet as Planet X.

A moon around Xena had been named Gabrielle, Xena’s sidekick on the TV show. Gabrielle will now be known as Dysnomia, a daughter of Eris. Dysonomia is a demon spirit of lawlessness. This brings us back to Xena, the warrior princess on TV. The character of Xena was played by Lucy Lawless.

The fun stops there, though. Pluto will still be called Pluto, but astronomers will refer to it as 134340.

 

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