July 11 – Happy Birthday, Venetia Burney

Posted on July 11, 2015

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived in Oxford, England. Her great uncle was a Science Master at a highly respected prep school – and he had been the one to suggest the names that we now use for the two tiny moons of the planet Mars: Phobos and Deimos.

When an American astronomer discovered a new, ninth planet of the solar system, there was a lot of excitement. The little girls grandpa told her about the discovery. She suggested a name for the newly discovered planet:


The little girl thought Pluto would be a great name because the other planets had names of the Roman Gods and Goddesses (such as Jupiter and Venus), and Pluto was the name of the Roman God of the Underworld. Also, the newly discovered planet was hard to spot – which made the name Pluto even better, since this particular god could make himself invisible. Another reason the suggestion was good was that astronomer Percival Lowell had predicted that there was another planet, which he called Planet X – and the name Pluto starts with Percival Lowell's initials.

The little girl's grandpa did what most grandpas would NOT do – he sent his granddaughter's suggestion to an astronomer, who sent the proposed name on to other astronomers.

Many of the astronomers loved the little girl's suggested name, and soon everyone knew the new planet by its even newer name, Pluto.

The little girl who made the suggestion was of course Venetia Burney (later Venetia Phair), who was born on this date in 1918. She made her famous suggestion when she was just 11 years old.

Burney went on to study mathematics, and as an adult she became an accountant, an economics teacher, and a math teacher.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft 
will reach Pluto and its moons 
in just a couple of days! 

Stay tuned for discoveries!

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