Dwarf Planet Fight Yields Contentious New Name

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The former planet was quickly joined by the former asteroid Ceres, then by the recently named Eris and Makemake. Until last week, the object called 2003 EL61 was the last officially recognized dwarf planet yet to be named.

Brown said he had been calling the body "Santa" during the months he was preparing for publication, because he first saw it just a few days after Christmas in 2004.

Credit for suggesting the name Haumea goes to David Rabinowitz of Yale University, one of Brown's team members.

The goddess seemed an apt inspiration, given that she is the personification of stone in Hawaiian myth. The elongated Haumea is about a third the size of Pluto and appears to be mostly made of rock. (Read more about Haumea's naming decision on our space editor's blog.)

What's more, astronomers think the dwarf planet and its moons are victims of a past collision that split them apart.

"Just like the Kuiper belt object Haumea is the central object in a cloud of Kuiper belt objects that are the pieces of it, the goddess Haumea is the mother of many other deities in Hawaiian mythology who are pieces pulled off of her body," Brown wrote on his blog.

The dwarf planet's two moons also got names drawn from the goddess Haumea's children: Hi'iaka, the patron goddess of the Big Island and of hula dancers, and Namaka, a water spirit.

Compromise Name

Ortiz, meanwhile, stands by his team's assertions that they discovered the dwarf planet and should have been given naming rights.

"I am not happy with the name and the particular procedure that was carried out in this case," Ortiz said.

He had suggested the name Ataecina, an Iberian underworld mother goddess, and sees no reason for its dismissal.

"I am no expert in ancient religions and mysterious deities, but even if Ataecina were judged unsuitable by the pertinent commission … a neutral name would have been much better than Haumea," Ortiz said.

Brian Marsden, of Harvard University's Minor Planet Center, is a member of both IAU committees that must approve new dwarf planet names.

He said the name was "a sort of compromise."

"After all, Mike Brown certainly discovered the satellites," he said.

Brown "had every right to propose names for the satellites, and it would be normal to have some connection between the names of the satellites and the name of the primary."

On his blog, Brown remains quite clear that he believes the Spanish team used data from his telescope to confirm their discovery before it was announced.

The Caltech astronomer has many undisputed discoveries in the Kuiper belt—including Eris and Makemake—and the list stands to grow even more.

There are now about 50 objects in Pluto's neighborhood that are known to fit the definition of a dwarf planet, Brown said.

Whether they'll each get names, he added, is anybody's guess.

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