Contest to name a world like Pluto

Children are being given the chance to name their own minor planet in a competition to mark the 80th anniversary of the discovery of Pluto. Space scientists’ ruling body the International Astronomical Union has promised to consider the winning entries for real worlds now being discovered.

artist's impression of SednaPluto became the ninth planet when it was spotted in 1930. It was named after the god of the underworld by an 11-year-old English girl, Venetia Burney, after her grandfather read of its discovery in The Times.

Venetia died last year, aged 90, after seeing her distant world demoted to the status of a dwarf planet by the IAU in 2006 as other similar bodies to Pluto began to be discovered at the edge of the solar system.

The new competition called Naming X is being launched today, on the anniversary of Venetia’s death, to find names for the new second division of planets being discovered out in Pluto’s neighbourhood.

The global contest, launched by Space Renaissance Education Chapter, in collaboration with Father Films, is being promoted in the UK by Ginita Jimenez who made a short film, Naming Pluto, about how Venetia got to see “her” planet at last in the last years of her life.

Ginita said: “The idea is very simple, we’re asking children what name they’d give a minor planet and why. All submissions can only be made by email and our world class judging panel will select the winning names which will be presented to the official body responsible for giving minor planets names.”

Judges will be Canadian comet discoverer David Levy, Jodrell Bank astronomer Professor Ian Morison and NASA space scientist Marc Buie whose New Horizons probe is currently on its way to Pluto.

Winning names will be presented to the IAU’s Committee for Small Body Nomenclature (CSBN), the body responsible for the naming of minor planets and comets, which is supporting the contest. Individuals and school groups can enter and full details are available here.

Picture: An artist’s impression of a dwarf planet.

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By Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. He writes regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy, plus he has authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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