Pluto’s Final Indignity

Once the International Astronomical Union (IAU) made its final decision on the definition of a planet, several outstanding naming issues were able to go ahead. One such issue was the official naming of the objected designated 2003 UB313, nicknamed “Xena” by its discoverers, as “Eris”, or more officially, 136199 Eris.

Also this week, Pluto was assigned a number from the IAU’s Minor Planet Center. From now on, Pluto will be officially known as 134340 Pluto.

What’s most startling about these numbers is their sheer magnitude: that six-figure digit for Pluto signifies that it is the 134,340th minor planet to have been catalogued since the first asteroid, Ceres, was discovered in 1801.


134340 Pluto and its three moons, Charon, Hydra (P1) and Nix (P2)

There as been an explosion in the number of asteroid discoveries in just the last ten years due to robotic sky surveys, such as The Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR), The Lowell Observatory Near-Earth-Object Search (LONEOS) and Spacewatch. As of 1996, the highest assigned asteroid number was for 7367 Giotto. In less than 10 years, over 100,000 new objects have been discovered, had their orbits determined and been assigned catalogue numbers.

» Posted: Sunday, September 17, 2006 | Permanent Link