Call it Pluto, and please pass the toast.

Venetia Phair – the last person to be said to have named a planet – died two weeks ago at the age of 90. She thought up the name Pluto for the newly discovered planet in 1930 at the age of 11, and suggested it to her uncle over breakfast. He – luckily – was a good friend of the professor of astronomy at Oxford, and the name was adopted a couple of months after its discovery.

Sadly, Pluto’s classification as a planet was changed in 2006 when the definition of a planet was changed; it is now considered a dwarf planet, along with Ceres, Eris, Haumea and the delightfully named Makemake.

Interestingly, the word ‘plutoed‘ (meaning to demote or devalue something or someone) was chosen by the American Dialect Society as word of the year in 2006.

1 thought on “Call it Pluto, and please pass the toast.”

  1. It should be noted that the IAU’s controversial demotion of Pluto is very likely not the last word on the subject and in fact represents only one interpretation in an ongoing debate. Only four percent of the IAU voted on this, and most are not planetary scientists. Their decision was immediately opposed in a formal petition by hundreds of professional astronomers led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. Stern and like-minded scientists favor a broader planet definition that includes any non-self-luminous spheroidal body in orbit around a star. The spherical part is important because objects become spherical when they attain a state known as hydrostatic equilibrium, meaning they are large enough for their own gravity to pull them into a round shape. This is a characteristic of planets and not of shapeless asteroids and Kuiper Belt Objects. Pluto meets this criterion and is therefore a planet.

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