Today in 1918, the birthday of Venetia Burney, who at age 11, did something few people have ever done: she named a planet!
Burney grew up in England.
She was one of those kids who was curious about a lot of things.
One of her favorite subjects was Greek and Roman mythology.
In March 1930, she was eating breakfast while her grandfather was reading the newspaper.
One of the stories was about an astronomer in America, Clyde Tombaugh, who had spotted a celestial body way far out past Neptune.
This “trans-Neptunian object” had been nicknamed Planet X when it was just an idea, but now that it had actually been seen, it needed a proper name.
Most planets had the names of gods and goddesses, so astronomers suggested a bunch of those here too.
(One top contender was Cronus, but it was rejected not because it was the name, but because scientists didn’t like Thomas Jefferson Jackson See, the astronomer who suggested it!)
Burney had an idea and told her grandfather: “What about Pluto?”
He liked the idea, and because he had been a prominent librarian at Oxford University, he could actually get her suggestion to the astronomers making the decision.
They liked it too: the astronomers voted unanimously to name the new planet Pluto.
It was the name of the Roman god of the underworld, so it was a good fit for this cold, distant object.
And the first two letters in Pluto were also the initials of Percival Lowell, an astronomer who had proposed that Planet X existed and spent years trying to find it.
Venetia Burney is the only woman to name a planet in our solar system (even if Pluto isn’t quite considered a full planet).
Her contribution to astronomy eventually came full circle.
In the early 2000s, when the New Horizons mission went to Pluto, one of the instruments on board was named in Venetia Burney’s honor.
On this day in 1992 the people of Ripon, Wisconsin made what was then the world’s largest chocolate chip cookie.
For years the community marked the achievement with the Cookie Daze festival, during which they would have Cookie Monster drop thousands of cookies for kids from a fire truck.
Photo via NASA