Thursday, September 14, 2006

Say hello to Eris and Dysnomia
Some casual readers of the news during the Pluto brouhahha last month may have been surprised to discover that we have a dwarf planet (as they are now called) named Xena. Actually it was just a provisional name assigned by the minor planet's co-discoverer Mike Brown. It was easier to remember that 2003 UB313. Brown, who has discovered several dwarf planets, has a history of giving his discoveries whimsical names. He named two other candidate dwarf planets that he found, Santa and Easterbunny.

The International Astronomical Union assigns the official names to celestial objects. The schema for planets and dwarf planets is that they are named after characters in Greco-Roman mythology. Xena is now officially Eris. Fans of the Illuminati books will know that Eris is the goddess of discord. Classicists will recall her playing the trick that eventually led to the Trojan War.

Eris has a small moon which Brown called Gabrielle, after Xena's sidekick. The IAU has officially named the moon Dysnomia. I doubt as if even Illuminati fans know this one. Dysnomia is the daughter of Eris and the goddess of lawlessness. Considering that Xena was played by Lucy Lawless, I wonder if someone at the IAU was trying to keep a little Xena in the naming, or if that was just Eris, doing what she does best.

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