Fed II Star newsletter - masthead The weekly newsletter for the Fed II game by ibgames

EARTHDATE: January 15, 2006

Page 9

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NASA is preparing to launch the first ever space mission to Pluto. The New Horizons will launch on Tuesday, heading out to the furthest reaches of the Solar System, where it will investigate Pluto and its moon Charon, as well as taking a look at the Kuiper Belt. You can find out more about this mission on the New Horizons web site.

Meanwhile, there is an interesting story behind the way Pluto was named. The planet was discovered in 1930 by a young American astronomer, Clyde Tombaugh, at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. But the planet was named by an 11-year-old English girl: Venetia Burney. She's now 87 years old, and is the only person in the world who can claim to have named a planet.

It happened like this. On the morning of March 14, 1930, the young Venetia was sitting down at the breakfast table with her grandfather Falconer Madan. He was reading the Times newspaper and found, on page 14, an article about the discovery of the new planet. He read the details to Venetia, who when she heard that the planet had not yet been named, made her own suggestion: Pluto, the Roman god of the Underworld.

Mr Madan was impressed by this idea. He was a retired librarian from the Bodleian Library so had lots of contacts at the university, and he went straight to his friend Herbert Hall Turner, professor of astronomy, and one of the leaders in the worldwide effort to produce an astrographic chart. Turner was out so Madan left a note. Ironically, Turner had been attending a meeting at the Royal Astronomical Society in London, where there was much speculation about the naming of the new ninth planet. When Mr Madan caught up with Professor Turner, they both agreed that Pluto was an excellent choice, so the suggestion was forwarded to the Lowell Observatory by telegram.

More than a month later, on May 1, the name Pluto was formally adopted. When the news went public, Mr Madan rewarded his granddaughter with a five pound note.

The name was apparently adopted not only because it was one of the few noteworthy names from classical mythology not to be already taken, but also because the first two letters are the initials of Percival Lowell, after whom the observatory was named.

This wasn't the first time Venetia's family had been involved in naming celestial bodies: her great uncle Henry Madan was the one who suggested Phobos and Deimos as the names for the moons of Mars.

Venetia Phair (as she is now) is 87 years old, and is a retired teacher. She has been sent an invitation by NASA to watch the New Horizons launch from Cape Canaveral, but she's probably going to have to decline because of her age.

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