On the naming of Eris, and such

Contributed by
Sep 14, 2006

OK, one more post about this...

I just got off the phone with Mike Brown, whose team of astronomers discovered, among others, the dwarf planet recently named Eris. I called him last night and he called back. That was a fun phone call!

I asked him about the lingering questions I had (and mentioned in the post linked above). First off, he told me that while they didn't actively pursue the name Dysnomia for Eris's moon because it meant "lawlessness" (due to the Lucy Lawless/Xena angle), they didn't avoid it either once they found the name. It was pretty clear that was the name to use, both because it was appropriate and because of the Xena connection. I think that's totally excellent.

Interestingly, he mentioned that the IAU rammed the names through very quickly-- they only submitted it 9 days ago!

I asked him about the two objects mentioned in the IAU circular as "two other new potential dwarf-planet candidates". He confirmed they were 2003 EL61 and 2005 FY9. I'm surprised by the inclusion of EL61, since it is highly elongated, but Mike told me it is in hydrostatic equilibrium-- the gravity is balanced by the centrifugal force. It spins really quickly, rotating once every four hours or so. I figured it just didn't have enough gravity to shape it into a ball. It does; it just spins so quickly the sphericity is distorted. It has the density of something made of rock, but is very reflective, so it must have a coating of ice. I'm surprised something that dense could be so elongated. Amazing.

But anyway, there you go; we may have names for those two guys soon too. Neat.

P.S. Mike Brown did say that the guy I linked to in my previous post was not terribly accurate with his suppositions (and has since updated his post with increasingly desperate attempts to make sense out of his original nonsense). Certainly, the words "strife" and "discord" have obvious resonance with current events, but the names themselves were appropriate for the planets. He also mentioned that new objects are not trending to be named after gods of the underworld or evil gods; that's just how some have worked out. So I was wrong there before when I mentioned this trend.

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