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September 18, 2006

Naming: Hail Eris! All Hail Discordia!

The LA Times is quite correct in asserting that “Eris” is an appropriate name for the dwarf planet UB313, nicknamed “Xena”.

ErisEris is the Greek goddess of strife, or discord. She was famous in antiquity for spoiling a good time. When Achilles’ parents got married, Eris was a gate-crasher, staying just long enough to start an argument between Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite about which of them was most beautiful.

They chose Paris, a prince of Troy, as a judge, and then tried to bribe him. Hera offered power, Athena knowledge. Aphrodite promised him the most beautiful woman in the world—who just happened to be married to the king of another city.

That resulted in enough strife to satisfy even a bloodthirsty goddess: the ten-year-long Trojan war.

ErisThough generally unpopular with the Greeks, Eris has her modern-day fans, namely the Discordians. Members of this “religion disguised as a joke disguised as a religion” are none too pleased with the fact that Eris has not been granted the status of a full-fledged planet, though they have long campaigned in favor of this name.

Eris could have been named a tenth planet, but instead the discovery of UB313 in 2003 inspired the International Astronomical Union to demote Pluto (discovered in 1930) to a “dwarf planet” in August 2006 - a change controversial enough to cause Wikipedia to lock its entry on Pluto and invite commentary from the likes of Seth Godin and The Agitator. There’s even a petition to save Pluto and a humorous site about Pluto coming out as a “planette”.

The naming of Pluto’s two moons, on the other hand, created far less controversy. So far, the definition of a moon appears to be more stable than the definition of a planet.

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Posted by Diane Prange at September 18, 2006 11:27 AM
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