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Disputed Dwarf Planet Named After Troublemaking Goddess

September 15, 2006|John Johnson Jr. | Times Staff Writer

According to Greek mythology, the goddess Eris was so miffed at being left off the guest list of a banquet of the gods that she stirred up the Trojan War.

Could there be a better name than that of the goddess of discord for the dwarf planet that spawned a pitched battle among astronomers and threw the public's ideas about the solar system into a cocked hat?

Apparently not. The executive committee of the International Astronomical Union decided this week to name the object known as UB313 after the troublemaking Eris.

UB313 aroused scientific discord after its discovery last year by Caltech stargazer Michael Brown. That's because UB313 was at least as large, and possibly larger, than Pluto.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 16, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Dwarf planets: An article in Friday's Section A about the dwarf planet Eris said Pluto's moon, Charon, was named after the wife of Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto. Charon was discovered by Jim Christy and was named after his wife, Charlene.

Either UB313 was a planet, or Pluto wasn't. Simple as that.

Astronomers fought for months before voting in Prague, Czech Republic, last month to kick out little Pluto, leaving eight planets and lots of unhappy fans of the dethroned ninth planet.

Brown and his team came up with the name Eris with tongues firmly planted in cheeks.

"It was too good," Brown said Thursday.

Not everyone is happy with the choice. Robert Mitchell, a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, said it seemed "a little silly" to give a permanent name based on a controversy that will blow over in time.

Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society, said you can't please everyone.

If "the IAU named Mars today, there would be all kinds of politically correct arguments" over naming a planet after the god of war, Friedman said.

The IAU also took Brown's suggestion for the name of Eris' tiny moon, Dysnomia. In Greek mythology, Dysnomia is Eris' daughter, the goddess of lawlessness.

Two inside jokes are in the name "Dysnomia."

You might get one if you knew that UB313 was nicknamed Xena. Think of the star of the TV show "Xena: Warrior Princess" -- Lucy Lawless.

Students of astronomical arcana might know that Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh named its moon, Charon, after his wife, Charlene.

Now, can you guess the name of Brown's wife?

Diane. The new satellite is affectionately known by Brown's team as Di.

john.johnson@latimes.com

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