What happened to the girl who named Pluto? (Intermediate)

Hello. I have a group of 3rd Grade Girl Astronomers who would like to know more about the life of Venetia Burney of Oxford, England, the former eleven year old school girl who named the planet Pluto. We have read many things about her and how she came up with the name, but cannot find anything about the rest of her life. My students would like to know if she married, what she did with her life, and if she is still living, would like to write to her. Can you please help us? Thank you very much.

Great question - I'm interested to find out now too. Unfortunately I have not been very successful. I think that what you would really need to do would be to ask some History of Astronomy experts - maybe in the UK. The Royal Astronomical Society immediately came to mind, but they do not answer questions from the general public. However they did have a link to The Society for the History of Astronomy. You could try emailing someone from that site to see what they know. In particular one of their members has a site on historical figures that could not be found elsewhere on the web, so he might be a good place to start. (from a 20th Grade Girl Astronomer)

A big thank you to all of you who helped me on my quest to find Venetia Burney Phair, who as an eleven year old school girl, named the planet Pluto. With your help, I wrote to her at the address that I believe Stuart Williams found for me. (Thank you, Stuart!) Mrs. Burney wrote us back, is now 85 years old, and my students are corresponding with her! They are so excited. I appreciate your help with this neat project.

Feb 2006 Update: Since posting this answer I've fielded several requests for Mrs. Phair's postal address in the UK, which I am happy to pass on (although it seems inappropriate to post it). One of these requests came from the BBC Horizon Research Team which was neat. Also interesting is this article: "The Girl Who Named a Planet which recently appeared on BBC News Online and features an interview with Mrs. Phair.

This page was last updated on July 18, 2015.

About the Author

Karen Masters

Karen Masters

Karen was a graduate student at Cornell from 2000-2005. She went on to work as a researcher in galaxy redshift surveys at Harvard University, and is now on the Faculty at the University of Portsmouth back in her home country of the UK. Her research lately has focused on using the morphology of galaxies to give clues to their formation and evolution. She is the Project Scientist for the Galaxy Zoo project.

Twitter:  @KarenLMasters
Website:  http://icg.port.ac.uk/~mastersk/

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