Dwarf planet discord

A dwarf planet at the fringes of the solar system finally gets an official name.

Things continue to change at the outer edge of the solar system. On Aug. 24, Pluto was demoted from planet to “dwarf planet,” leaving only eight true planets in the solar system.

Now, astronomers have given another dwarf planet an official name. Once known as Xena, the dwarf planet’s new name is Eris, after the Greek goddess of discord and strife. Eris’ moon also has a new name: Dysnomia, the Greek goddess of lawlessness.


In this artist’s illustration, the sun is a small spot (lower right), as seen from behind the newly named dwarf planet Eris. Eris’ moon, Dysnomia, is near the top middle.


Robert Hunt/IPAC, Caltech

Xena and its moon, once called Gabrielle, were originally named after a popular TV show about a warrior princess and her companion. The names were never meant to be permanent, however. But astronomers took a long time to decide what to call the objects officially, and the popular names began to stick.

Astronomer Mike Brown, who discovered both objects in 2005, gave them their temporary names and their new names. He thinks Eris is a fitting name for the new dwarf planet because astronomers have argued for so long over how to define a planet.

With Pluto’s demotion, there are now four known dwarf planets in the solar system: Pluto, Pluto’s moon Charon, asteroid Ceres, and Eris. Eris is the largest of these objects.

But the debate continues. Some scientists are now saying that Pluto should regain its status as a planet.

Going Deeper:

Cowen, Ron. 2006. A discordant name for a dwarf planet. Science News 170(Oct. 7):237. Available at http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20061007/note9.asp .

You can learn more about the naming of 2003 UB 313 at www.iau2006.org/mirror/www.iau.org/iau0605/index.html (International Astronomical Union).

Sohn, Emily. 2006. Pluto and the plutons. Science News for Kids (Aug. 23). Available at http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/articles/20060823/Note3.asp .

______. 2006. Xena’s mysterious sparkle. Science News for Kids (April 19). Available at http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/articles/20060419/Note2.asp .

______. 2004. Planets on the edge. Science News for Kids (April 7). Available at http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/articles/20040407/Feature1.asp .


The Name’s the Thing


Name the Eleventh Planet


Carolyn Gramling is the earth & climate writer at Science News. She has bachelor’s degrees in geology and European history and a Ph.D. in marine geochemistry from MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

More Stories from Science News Explores on Space