Venetia Burney

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Venetia Burney
Photo of Venetia Burney, aged 11, c. 1929.jpg
Venetia Burney aged 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), as an English girl of 11 years old, was credited by Clyde Tombaugh with first suggesting the name Pluto for the planet he discovered in 1930. She was living in Oxford, England, at the time. As an adult she worked as an accountant and a teacher.



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]

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.

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.

Only a few months before the reclassification of Pluto from a planet to a dwarf planet, with a 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]


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]

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]

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Clyde Tombaugh American astronomer, discoverer of Pluto (1906-1997)

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 reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006. Tombaugh also discovered many asteroids. He called for the serious scientific research of unidentified flying objects, or UFOs.

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.

Pluto Dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt of the Solar System

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

Lowell Observatory astronomical observatory

Lowell Observatory is an astronomical observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, United States. Lowell Observatory was established in 1894, placing it among the oldest observatories in the United States, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965. In 2011, the Observatory was named one of "The World's 100 Most Important Places" by TIME. It was at the Lowell Observatory that the dwarf planet Pluto was discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh.

Herbert Hall Turner FRS was a British astronomer and seismologist.

1604 Tombaugh asteroid

1604 Tombaugh, provisional designation 1931 FH, is a rare-type Eos asteroid from the outer region of the asteroid belt, approximately 32 kilometers in diameter. It was discovered on 24 March 1931, by American astronomer Carl Otto Lampland at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, in the United States. It was named after the discoverer of Pluto, Clyde Tombaugh.

Makemake dwarf planet in the Solar System

Makemake is a likely dwarf planet and perhaps the second largest Kuiper belt object in the classical population, with a diameter approximately two-thirds that of Pluto. Makemake has one known satellite, S/2015 (136472) 1. Makemake's extremely low average temperature, about 40 K (−230 °C), means its surface is covered with methane, ethane, and possibly nitrogen ices.

Dwarf planet Planetary-mass object

A dwarf planet is a planetary-mass object that does not dominate its region of space and is not a satellite. That is, it is in direct orbit of the Sun and is massive enough to be plastic – for its gravity to maintain it in a hydrostatically equilibrious shape – but has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit of other material. The prototype dwarf planet is Pluto.

Eris (dwarf planet) Dwarf planet beyond Pluto in the Solar System

Eris is the most massive and second-largest known dwarf planet 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 the goddess of strife and discord. Eris is the ninth-most massive object directly orbiting the Sun, and the sixteenth-most massive overall. It is also the largest object that has not been visited by a spacecraft. Eris has been measured at 2,326 ± 12 kilometers (1,445.3 ± 7.5 mi) in diameter. Its mass is 0.27% as much as the Earth's and 27% more than dwarf planet Pluto's, though Pluto is slightly larger by volume.

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.

Falconer Madan British librarian

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

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

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 Region 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.

Tenzing Montes mountains 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.

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 young girl who originally named Pluto. 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 acknowledged as such 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.