Venetia Burney

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Venetia Burney
Photo of Venetia Burney, aged 11, c. 1929.jpg
Venetia Burney at age 11
Venetia Katharine Douglas Burney

(1918-07-11)11 July 1918
Died30 April 2009(2009-04-30) (aged 90)
Banstead, England
Known forNaming Pluto
Edward Maxwell Phair(m. 19472006)
ChildrenPatrick Phair
Relatives Falconer Madan, grandfather

Venetia Katharine Douglas Burney (married name Phair, 11 July 1918 – 30 April 2009) was an English girl credited by Clyde Tombaugh with first suggesting the name Pluto for the planet he discovered in 1930. At the time, she was 11 years old and lived in Oxford, England. As an adult she worked as an accountant and a teacher.

Clyde Tombaugh American astronomer

Clyde William Tombaugh was an American astronomer. He discovered Pluto in 1930, the first object to be discovered in what would later be identified as the Kuiper belt. At the time of discovery, Pluto was considered a planet but was later controversially reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006. Tombaugh also discovered many asteroids. He also called for the serious scientific research of unidentified flying objects, or UFOs.

Pluto A dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt of the Solar System

Pluto is a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt, a ring of bodies beyond Neptune. It was the first Kuiper belt object to be discovered and is the largest known plutoid.

Oxford City and non-metropolitan district in England

Oxford is a university city in south central England and the county town of Oxfordshire. With a population of approximately 155,000, it is the 52nd largest city in the United Kingdom, with one of the fastest growing populations in the UK, and it remains the most ethnically diverse area in Oxfordshire county. The city is 51 miles (82 km) from London, 61 miles (98 km) from Bristol, 59 miles (95 km) from Southampton, 57 miles (92 km) from Birmingham and 24 miles (39 km) from Reading.



Venetia Burney was the daughter of Rev. Charles Fox Burney, Oriel Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture at Oxford, and his wife Ethel Wordsworth Burney (née Madan). She was the granddaughter of Falconer Madan (1851–1935), Librarian of the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford. [1] Falconer Madan's brother, Henry Madan (1838–1901), Science Master of Eton, had in 1878 suggested the names Phobos and Deimos for the moons of Mars. [2]

Rev. Charles Fox Burney was biblical scholar at Oxford University, England.

Falconer Madan British librarian

Falconer Madan was Librarian of the Bodleian Library of Oxford University.

Bodleian Library main research library of the University of Oxford

The Bodleian Library is the main research library of the University of Oxford, and is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. With over 12 million items, it is the second-largest library in Britain after the British Library. Under the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 it is one of six legal deposit libraries for works published in the United Kingdom and under Irish Law it is entitled to request a copy of each book published in the Republic of Ireland. Known to Oxford scholars as "Bodley" or "the Bod", it operates principally as a reference library and, in general, documents may not be removed from the reading rooms.

On 14 March 1930, Falconer Madan read the story of the new planet's discovery in The Times , and mentioned it to his granddaughter Venetia. She suggested the name Pluto  – the Roman God of the Underworld who was able to make himself invisible − and Falconer Madan forwarded the suggestion to astronomer Herbert Hall Turner, who cabled his American colleagues at Lowell Observatory. Clyde Tombaugh liked the proposal because it started with the initials of Percival Lowell who had predicted the existence of Planet X, which they thought was Pluto because it was coincidentally in that position in space. On 1 May 1930, the name Pluto was formally adopted for the new celestial body. [3] Whether she was really the first person to propose the name has been doubted on plausibility grounds, [4] but the historical fact is that she was credited as such.

<i>The Times</i> British newspaper, founded 1785

The Times is a British daily national newspaper based in London. It began in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register, adopting its current name on 1 January 1788. The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers, since 1981 a subsidiary of News UK, itself wholly owned by News Corp. The Times and The Sunday Times do not share editorial staff, were founded independently, and have only had common ownership since 1967.

Pluto (mythology) god in Greek mythology

Pluto was the ruler of the underworld in classical mythology. The earlier name for the god was Hades, which became more common as the name of the underworld itself. In ancient Greek religion and mythology, Pluto represents a more positive concept of the god who presides over the afterlife. Ploutōn was frequently conflated with Ploutos, a god of wealth, because mineral wealth was found underground, and because as a chthonic god Pluto ruled the deep earth that contained the seeds necessary for a bountiful harvest. The name Ploutōn came into widespread usage with the Eleusinian Mysteries, in which Pluto was venerated as a stern ruler but the loving husband of Persephone. The couple received souls in the afterlife, and are invoked together in religious inscriptions. Hades, by contrast, had few temples and religious practices associated with him, and he is portrayed as the dark and violent abductor of Persephone.

Herbert Hall Turner FRS was a British astronomer and seismologist.

Burney was educated at Downe House School in Berkshire and Newnham College, Cambridge, where she studied mathematics. After graduation she became a chartered accountant. Later she became a teacher of economics and mathematics at girls’ schools in southwest London. She was married to Edward Maxwell Phair from 1947 until his death in 2006. Her husband, a classicist, later became housemaster and head of English at Epsom College. She died on 30 April 2009, aged 90, in Banstead in Surrey. [5] She was buried at Randalls Park Crematorium in Leatherhead in Surrey.

Downe House School school in Cold Ash, a village near Newbury, Berkshire, England

Downe House School is a selective independent girls' day and boarding school in Cold Ash, a village near Newbury, Berkshire, for girls aged 11–18.

Berkshire County of England

Berkshire is one of the home counties in England. It was recognised by the Queen as the Royal County of Berkshire in 1957 because of the presence of Windsor Castle, and letters patent were issued in 1974. Berkshire is a county of historic origin, a ceremonial county and a non-metropolitan county without a county council. The county town is Reading.

Newnham College, Cambridge college of the University of Cambridge

Newnham College is a women's constituent college of the University of Cambridge.

Only a few months before the reclassification of Pluto from a planet to a dwarf planet, with the debate going on about the issue, she said in an interview, "At my age, I've been largely indifferent [to the debate]; though I suppose I would prefer it to remain a planet." [3]

Dwarf planet planetary-mass object

A dwarf planet is a planetary-mass object that is neither a true planet nor a natural satellite. That is, it is in direct orbit of a star, and is massive enough for its gravity to compress it into a hydrostatically equilibrious shape, but has not cleared the neighborhood of other material around its orbit.


The asteroid 6235 Burney and Burney Crater on Pluto were named in her honour. [6] [7] In July 2015 the New Horizons spacecraft was the first to visit Pluto and carried an instrument named Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter in her honour. [8]

Asteroid Minor planet that is not a comet

Asteroids are minor planets, especially of the inner Solar System. Larger asteroids have also been called planetoids. These terms have historically been applied to any astronomical object orbiting the Sun that did not resemble a planet-like disc and was not observed to have characteristics of an active comet such as a tail. As minor planets in the outer Solar System were discovered they were typically found to have volatile-rich surfaces similar to comets. As a result, they were often distinguished from objects found in the main asteroid belt. In this article, the term "asteroid" refers to the minor planets of the inner Solar System including those co-orbital with Jupiter.

6235 Burney, provisional designation 1987 VB, is a Florian or background asteroid from the inner regions of the asteroid belt, approximately 4 kilometers in diameter. It was discovered on 14 November 1987, by Japanese astronomers Seiji Ueda and Hiroshi Kaneda at the Kushiro Observatory on Hokkaido, Japan. The likely elongated L-type asteroid has a rotation period of 15.5 hours. It was named for Venetia Burney, who first proposed Pluto's name.

<i>New Horizons</i> First mission of the New Frontiers program; flyby reconnaisance of the dwarf planet Pluto

New Horizons is an interplanetary space probe that was launched as a part of NASA's New Frontiers program. Engineered by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), with a team led by S. Alan Stern, the spacecraft was launched in 2006 with the primary mission to perform a flyby study of the Pluto system in 2015, and a secondary mission to fly by and study one or more other Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) in the decade to follow, which as of 2019 includes 2014 MU69. It is the fifth space probe to achieve the escape velocity needed to leave the Solar System.

Massachusetts rock band The Venetia Fair came up with their name after reading about Venetia Phair, shortly after Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet. [9]

Related Research Articles

Planets beyond Neptune any Solar System planet that might exist beyond Neptune

Following the discovery of the planet Neptune in 1846, there was considerable speculation that another planet might exist beyond its orbit. The search began in the mid-19th century and continued at the start of the 20th with Percival Lowell's quest for Planet X. Lowell proposed the Planet X hypothesis to explain apparent discrepancies in the orbits of the giant planets, particularly Uranus and Neptune, speculating that the gravity of a large unseen ninth planet could have perturbed Uranus enough to account for the irregularities.

1604 Tombaugh, provisional designation 1931 FH, is a rare-type Eoan asteroid from the outer region of the asteroid belt, approximately 32 kilometers in diameter.

IAU definition of <i>planet</i> definition of a planet as a body orbiting the Sun, in hydrostatic equilibrium, having cleared the neighborhood around its orbit; ratified by the IAU in 2006, thereby reclassifying Pluto as a dwarf planet instead

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) defined in August 2006 that, in the Solar System, a planet is a celestial body which:

  1. is in orbit around the Sun,
  2. has sufficient mass to assume hydrostatic equilibrium, and
  3. has "cleared the neighborhood" around its orbit.
Eris (dwarf planet) dwarf planet in the Solar System

Eris is the most massive and second-largest dwarf planet known in the Solar System. Eris was discovered in January 2005 by a Palomar Observatory-based team led by Mike Brown, and its discovery was verified later that year. In September 2006 it was named after Eris, the Greek goddess of strife and discord. Eris is the ninth most massive object directly orbiting the Sun, and the 16th most massive overall, because seven moons are more massive than all known dwarf planets. It is also the largest which has not yet been visited by a spacecraft. Eris was measured to be 2,326 ± 12 kilometers (1,445.3 ± 7.5 mi) in diameter. Eris's mass is about 0.27% of the Earth mass, about 27% more than dwarf planet Pluto, although Pluto is slightly larger by volume.

Tombaugh Cliffs is a group of ice-free cliffs which stand at the north side of the mouth of Pluto Glacier and face towards the George VI Ice Shelf which occupies George VI Sound, on the east side of Alexander Island, Antarctica. Photographed from the air by the Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition in 1947–48; surveyed by Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey from 1948 to 1950. The naming by the United Kingdom Antarctic Place-Names Committee continues the astronomy related or celestial theme displayed in the toponymy of this area. Clyde Tombaugh (1906-1997), American astronomer who studied at Lowell Observatory, who first discovered the dwarf planet Pluto in 1930.

Henry George Madan was an English chemist, teacher and academic.

Tombaugh Regio regio on Pluto

Tombaugh Regio, nicknamed The Heart after its shape, is the largest bright surface feature of the dwarf planet Pluto. It is just north of the equator, to the northeast of Cthulhu Macula and to the northwest of Krun Macula, which are both dark features. Its western lobe, a 1000 km-wide plain of nitrogen and other ices lying within a basin, is named Sputnik Planitia. The eastern lobe consists of high-albedo uplands thought to be coated by nitrogen transported through the atmosphere from Sputnik Planitia, and then deposited as ice. Some of this nitrogen ice then returns to Sputnik Planitia via glacial flow. It is named after Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto.

Tombaugh may refer to:

Tenzing Montes montes on Pluto

The Tenzing Montes are icy mountains, near the Hillary Montes, that reach up to 6.2 km above the surface of the dwarf planet Pluto, bordering the southwest region of Sputnik Planitia in the south of Tombaugh Regio. They are the highest mountain range on Pluto, and also the steepest, with a mean slope of 19.2 degrees.

Hillary Montes montes on Pluto

The Hillary Montes are mountains that reach 3.5 km above the surface of the dwarf planet Pluto. They are located northwest of Norgay Montes in the southwest border area of Sputnik Planitia in the south of Tombaugh Regio. The Hillary Montes were first viewed by the New Horizons spacecraft on 14 July 2015, and announced by NASA on 24 July 2015.

Lowell Regio regio on Pluto

Lowell Regio is a region on the dwarf planet Pluto. It was discovered by the New Horizons spacecraft in 2015. The region corresponds to the Plutonian northern polar cap. It is named after Percival Lowell who established the observatory where Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto.

Voyager Terra is a region on the dwarf planet Pluto, north of Viking Terra and Tombaugh Regio and west of Pioneer Terra, which was discovered in July 2015 by the New Horizons spacecraft. It is named for the Voyager program and Voyager 2, the first spacecraft to explore Uranus and Neptune and to cross into interstellar space. On 7 September 2017, the name Voyager Terra was officially approved together with the names of Tombaugh Regio and twelve other nearby surface features.

Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter scientific instrument aboard the unmanned New Horizons space probe

The Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter (VBSDC) is a scientific instrument aboard the unmanned New Horizons space probe that is designed to detect dust impacts in outer space. VBSDC is the first planetary science instrument to built by students. The dust counter was launched in 2006, and named later that year after Venetia Burney. The detector works when dust strikes films of polarized polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), which generates an electrical charge. The space dust is then detected over the course of the New Horizons spacecraft flight out of the Solar System and past Pluto.


  1. "Venetia Phair". Daily Telegraph . 5 May 2009. Retrieved 11 May 2009. Venetia Phair, who has died aged 90, had the distinction of being the only woman in the world to have named a planet; in 1930, as a girl of 11, she suggested the name Pluto for the enigmatic celestial body that had just been discovered, and which became (albeit only temporarily) the ninth planet in our solar system.
  2. "Proceedings of the Royal Astronomical Society". The Observatory . 53: 193–201. July 1930. Bibcode:1930Obs....53..193. Retrieved 21 April 2015.
  3. 1 2 Rincon, Paul (13 January 2006). "The girl who named a planet". Pluto: The Discovery of Planet X. BBC News . Retrieved 12 April 2007.
  4. Geoff Nunberg. Another Plutonian casualty? Language Log. 27 August 2006.
  5. Grimes, William (10 May 2009). "Venetia Phair Dies at 90; as a Girl, She Named Pluto". The New York Times . Retrieved 11 May 2009. 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.
  6. "JPL Small-Body Database Browser". NASA. Retrieved 21 April 2015.
  7. "Pluto: dwarf planet's surface features given first official names". The Guardian. 8 September 2017. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  8. "Pluto-Bound Science Instrument Renamed for Girl Who Named Ninth Planet". NASA. 30 June 2006. Archived from the original on 9 March 2015. Retrieved 21 April 2015.
  9. "Exclusive Interview: The Venetia Fair". Neck Deep Media. Archived from the original on 21 July 2015. Retrieved 21 April 2015.