Discordant Dwarfs and Bad Apples

After mentioning Ceres, and since we mostly know Pluto, it seemed only fair to do a quick swing by Eris. Especially since we’re still in apple time.


Eris was the Greek goddess of discord and strife.


The most famous myth involving Eris is how she sort of started the Trojan War.


In a classic fairy tale setup, most of the pantheon had been invited to a wedding, but she was left out since she was a known troublemaker.


So of course she crashed to make trouble. She tossed in a golden apple engraved with to the fairest–all the other goddesses started to bicker over which of them deserved it.


Zeus (king of the gods and possibly of bad ideas as well) decided that the handsomest man in the world would be the best judge. So Paris, prince of Troy, was given the job. It was down to three powerful goddesses, all of whom stripped and when that failed, tried bribery. Hera offered him political power, Athena prowess in battle, and Aphrodite the hand of the most beautiful woman in the world. (Ignoring the fact that said agreed upon beauty was married.)


Ruben’s Judgment of Paris

 In the famous ‘Judgement of Paris’ Paris awarded the apple to Aphrodite and ran off with Helen. Helen’s husband and allies went to war with Troy, and the rest is a couple epics long. Per most classical mythology, it ends poorly for nearly everyone.


The dwarf planet that came to be called Eris was discovered in 2005 from photographs taken two years earlier. It seems to be more massive than Pluto, about 1/4 the mass of Earth. They’re not sure yet if it is slightly larger than Pluto or denser.


It’s a little odd that all of the planets have the Roman version of names, and here Eris is the odd planet out with the Greek version.


It seems like a planet named after strife should be one big enough to have the gravitational pull to clear its orbit and be considered a full planet.


There’s a certain appropriateness in giving the name to a dwarf planet, given the discord their designation, discovery and naming seem to sew in the astronomical community.


The team that discovered the object known as Eris and the one called Makemake announced their discoveries earlier than planned, after another team announced the discovery of a third object they’d been tracking. (The one now called Haumea.)


Haumea became a source of bickering, Caltech said they saw it first, the Spanish team announced it first. Caltech had found someone accessing their data  days before the announcement and accused the Spanish team of using Caltech’s data without permission. The Spanish team accused Caltech of politically interfering with the International Astronomical Union (IAU) when they officially recognized Caltech’s suggested name over the Spanish team’s suggested name.


The official reason was that the Spanish team suggested Ataecina, who was an underworld goddess. They thought it was a good way of honoring their Iberian background, and as an underworld goddess it fit nicely with Pluto. (Nice sounding name too…)


The IAC argued that the names of underground deities could only be used for planets in a similar orbit to Pluto, so went with Caltech’s proposed Hawaiian goddess, Haumea. She was the goddess of the island of Hawai’i, fertility and childbirth, and fit the guidelines that Kuiper belt objects are supposed to be named after creation deities.


Of course, with so many mythologies to choose from, it seems odd they couldn’t just pick a neutral one, shelve those names for the next time, and move on.


Golden apples anyone?


Contentious Haumea is a tiny dwarf planet beyond Neptune. It’s has only 1/3 the mass of Pluto and is oddly elongated, but both teams agreed that it is big enough to have its own gravity.


Shadowed by the infighting, slightly larger and rounder (2/3 the mass of Pluto) Makemake was named after the creator god of the Rapa Nui.


The birdman cult which worshiped him was suppressed when Christian missionaries came to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) so not much is known about their practices or Makemake, beyond that he created humanity.


Okay, who has a good mnemonic to remember all these new guys and their order?


Filed under Historical Facts and Trivia, Natural Science

3 responses to “Discordant Dwarfs and Bad Apples

  1. My Very Educated Mother Can’t Jog So U Need Push Her Mass Everywhere. Certainly no worse than the one I was taught in school — and it’s subtext is that jogging is good for you, as opposed to advocating an inordinate lust for pizza.

    • I myself am rather fond of pizza, but I do like that update. I suppose the quasi text speak is appropriate!

      • Yeah, I was thinking “U” would pass for the text savvy crop. And I love pizza, too (it’s one of my staples) — but to the extent that the Cookie Monster got busted for compulsive over-eating 😦 I wouldn’t be surprised if it had already changed in schools.

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