Venetia Phair Dies at 90; as a Girl, She Named Pluto
The New York Times
Frozen and lonely, Planet X circled the far reaches of the solar system awaiting discovery and a name. It got one thanks to an 11-year-old British girl named Venetia Burney, an enthusiast of the planets and classical myth.
On March 14, 1930, the day newspapers reported that the long-suspected â€œtrans-Neptunian bodyâ€ had been photographed for the first time, she proposed to her well-connected grandfather that it be named Pluto, after the Roman god of the underworld.
And so it was.
Venetia Phair, as she became by marriage, died April 30 in her home in Banstead, in the county of Surrey, England. She was 90. The death was confirmed by her son, Patrick.
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New Horizons Team Remembers Venetia Phair, the â€˜Girl Who Named Plutoâ€™
NASA PRESS RELEASE
The team guiding the first mission to Pluto is fondly remembering Venetia Burney Phair, the â€œlittle girlâ€ who named the ninth planet when it was discovered nearly 80 years ago. Mrs. Phair died April 30 at her home in Epsom, England, at age 90.
â€œVenetia’s interest and success in naming Pluto as a schoolgirl caught the attention of the world and earned her a place in the history of planetary astronomy that lives on,â€ says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern.
In June 2006, the New Horizons team renamed the spacecraftâ€™s Student Dust Counter instrument in her honor, calling it the â€œVenetia Burney Student Dust Counterâ€ (VBSDC, or just â€œVenetiaâ€ for short). Six months later, in a small ceremony in Mrs. Phairâ€™s home, Stern and SDC Principal Investigator Mihaly Horanyi presented her with a plaque, certificate and spacecraft model to commemorate the renaming. â€œShe was a thoroughly intelligent, likable and endearing woman,â€ Stern says. â€œThe entire New Horizons team is saddened by her passing.â€
The New Horizons dust counter is the first the first science instrument on a NASA planetary mission to be designed, built and operated by students, and by late next year it will be operating farther out in the solar system than any dust measurement instrument in history. Stern and the SDC team members thought it fitting to name instrument built by students after Mrs. Phair, who was just an 11-year-old student herself when she made her historic suggestion of a name for Pluto in 1930.
â€œHer death deeply saddens the former and current crew of the VBSDC instrument,â€ says Horanyi, who, like the dust counter student team, is from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. â€œHer contribution will be lasting, not only by naming Pluto, but also by giving an example to young people of the value of intellectual curiosity and the rewards of a lifelong interest in science and discovery.â€
Plaque Commemorating the Venetia Burney SDC:
“New Horizons, the first mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, is proud to announce that the student instrument aboard our spacecraft is hereby named â€œThe Venetia Burney Student Dust Counterâ€ in honor of Mrs. Venetia Burney Phair, who at age of eleven nominated the name Pluto for our solar system’s ninth planet. May â€œVenetiaâ€ inspire a new generation of students to explore our solar system, to make discoveries which challenge the imagination, and to pursue learning all through their lives.”