In 2006 the IAU (International Astronomical Union) changed the definition of “planet.” Under their new (and still controversial) definition, Pluto is no longer a planet; it’s now a “dwarf planet.”
Part of the motivation for reconsidering the definition of planet was the discovery of solar system objects beyond Pluto’s orbit, which were nearly as large. The largest known so far, just the tiniest bit smaller in size yet considerably more massive than Pluto, is the dwarf planet Eris. Its discovery was announced in January 2005 by a team led by Mike Brown, but they couldn’t yet assign a name because naming conventions depend on how an object is classified, which had to await the IAU decision on planetary status in August 2006.
The team itself came up with their own name, only a “nickname” if you will, which they admitted to the press in only one interview, but which caught on with some members of the public. They called it “Xena” after the heroic title character of the TV show “Xena: Warrior Princess.” Not only did they enjoy the show, they also wanted to have more feminine names for astronomical objects.
After its discovery but prior to the IAU decision, they discovered that Xena/Eris had a moon of its own. Its official name is “Dysnomia” after the daughter of the Greek goddess Eris. Dysnomia is the goddess of lawlessness, which makes a nice play on the name of the star of TV’s Xena, actress Lucy Lawless.
Since the moon was discovered even before Xena/Eris received an official name, the team needed a nickname for it too. Fans of the TV show can probably guess the name they chose: Xena’s sidekick, “Gabrielle.”
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosopy.
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