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The naming of Plutoids: article from ARIZONA DAILY SUN

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  • Robert Blake
    Plutoid names in different orbit With Greek and Roman gods running short, the newest dwarf planet is named after a Polynesian fertility god. By ANNE MINARD
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 26, 2008
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      Plutoid names in different orbit
      With Greek and Roman gods running short, the newest dwarf planet is
      named after a Polynesian fertility god.

      Special to the Daily Sun
      Saturday, July 26, 2008

      Pluto might have been cast out of the lineup of solar system planets,
      but the Flagstaff discovery is anything but lonely.

      Pluto has so many companions in the outer solar system, in fact, that
      astronomers have run out of Greek and Roman names to call them. So
      they're getting multicultural.

      The International Astronomical Union has announced the official name
      of the fifth dwarf planet, discovered in 2005 by Mike Brown's team at
      the California Institute of Technology: Makemake.

      Pronounced MAH-kay-MAH-kay, the name refers to a Polynesian creation

      Ted Bowell is a Lowell Observatory astronomer who presides over the
      IAU's Division III, which oversees research in planetary systems. As
      part of his role, Bowell is also involved with the IAU's two naming
      committees that must approve new dwarf planet monikers.

      "It looks as though we are starting to establish the idea that large
      distant objects in the solar system be named after creation gods," he

      All except for the ones that orbit two times for Neptune's every
      three, that is. Those planets, locked into the same rhythm as Pluto,
      are to be named after underworld mythological deities in honor of the
      former planet.


      Brown said he was stumped for a time about what to call his latest
      discovery. For the two years it was known in scientific circles as
      2005 FY9, Brown was calling it Easterbunny -- because he found it a
      few days after Easter.

      "Suddenly, it dawned on me: the island of Rapa Nui," Brown said,
      referring to the aboriginal name for Easter Island. "Why hadn't I
      thought of this before?"

      The name Makemake clicked for Brown and it clicked for the IAU, which
      adopted the name just a month after deciding to use "Plutoid" to
      label Pluto and other dwarf planets beyond Neptune.

      The IAU coined the term "dwarf planet" in 2006, to accommodate Pluto
      and other objects in its neighborhood -- called the Kuiper Belt --
      that were then being discovered. But the new distinction also
      included Ceres, the giant asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter.

      Now Ceres is the lonely one, as the only dwarf planet that's not a

      Makemake's recognition couldn't have come too soon for Brown, who
      submitted his idea six months ago.

      "While a rose by any other name would surely smell as sweet, the
      Kuiper belt object/dwarf planet/Plutoid formerly known mostly as 2005
      FY9 now smells a good bit sweeter to me," he wrote on his blog.


      Makemake was the chief god of the Tangata manu bird-man cult,
      incarnated as sea-birds and symbolized as a man with a bird's head.

      Makemake the dwarf planet is one of the largest objects discovered so
      far in the outer solar system. It's about two-thirds the size of
      Pluto and only slightly dimmer. The dwarf planet is reddish in color,
      and astronomers believe the surface is covered with frozen methane.

      "A lot of these objects have had sort of an obvious thing to hang the
      name on," Brown said. Eris, for example, needed a name just after the
      IAU's demotion of Pluto and the public outcry that followed.

      Scientists had fairly exhausted the cadre of Roman and Greek god
      names, but Eris remained: the goddess of discord and strife.

      "Clearly I believe in astrology," Brown joked, "because that had been
      waiting for us for a long, long time."


      Brian Marsden has recorded the names of more than 12,000 asteroids
      and other planetary bodies during his 30-plus years at Harvard
      University's Minor Planet Center. He also sits on both IAU committees
      that must approve new dwarf planet names: the Committee on Small Body
      Nomenclature and the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature.

      Three other Flagstaff astronomers occupy positions on the committees:
      the U.S. Geological Survey's Jennifer Blue, Lisa Gaddis and Ken
      Tanaka, though the latter two members only approve names for Mars or
      the moon.

      The Lowell Observatory's Bowell said Makemake was nearly unanimous
      among the committees, and the only discussion came over whether to
      hyphenate, combine or separate the two "make" parts.

      "By having Makemake not be a Greek or Roman name," Marsden
      added, "we've got away from that idea for these dwarf planets, and I
      think that's good."

      For his part, Brown has written quite a few names in the stars.

      Among them are Quaoar, a creation force of the Los Angeles Tongva
      tribe; Orcus, the earlier Etruscan counterpart to Pluto; Sedna, the
      Inuit sea goddess, and Eris.

      Brown may have at least one more name in the pipeline -- but first
      the IAU will have to decide whether he got swindled or just scooped
      by a competing Spanish team claiming to discover 2003 EL61 first.

      ON THE WEB IAU Web site: www.iau.org Information about Pluto and the
      other dwarf planets: www.iau.org/ public_press/themes/pluto Lowell
      Obervatory: www.lowell.edu
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