Bye bye, Xena and Gabrielle. Hello, Eris and Dysnomia.

With all the brouhaha over Pluto’s recent demotion, I’ve been waiting to see what would happen to 2003 UB313, also called Xena, “the 10th planet.” Well, the wait is over. Skytonight.com is reporting that the official name for the larger body is Eris, and Eris’ moon is Dysnomia.

At first I thought “Dysnomia” was a less-than-subtle dig at Pluto supporters, since the word breaks down to DYS- (bad) and -NOMIA which appears to be related to the French nom, or name. I thought Dysnomia meant bad naming (though it does have an non-astronomical English definition). Instead, the Greek -NOMIA is related to -NOMOS, “law”. Which makes sense?first, Dysnomia was the daughter of Eris, and the goddess (sometimes referred to instead as a demon) of lawlessness. Also, and happily in my opinion. it is a tip of the hat to Lucy Lawless, who played the character of Xena!

UPDATE 9/15/06- I did not initially know that the new names were submitted to the International Astronomical Union by the discoverer, Michael Brown of the California Institute of Technology, who had also whimsically suggested the original names. There does seem to be some real-life commentary going on here, judging by this AP report. Eris, the goddess of chaos, created a row among the goddesses that resulted in the Trojan War. Eris/Xena, by its discovery, created chaos and an eventual row among astronomers about the definition of a planet that resulted in a still-contentious ruling at this year’s IAU meeting. Perhaps Dysnomia is a veiled comment after all, but a pro-Pluto comment. Brown is quoted as saying the name Eris was an obvious choice, and “too perfect to resist.”

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