May 11, 2009

Phair, woman who named Pluto, dead at 90

Venetia Phair, who earned scientific notoriety at the age of 11 by suggesting the name Pluto for a newly discovered planet, has died in Britain, her son says.

Phair's son, Patrick, confirmed his mother, who was born Venetia Burney, died of unspecified causes April 30 at the age of 90 in the British town of Banstead, The New York Times said Monday.

Phair recounted in the film documentary, Naming Pluto, how she suggested the planetary name to her grandfather, retired Bodleian Library librarian Falconer Madan, following the first reported photographic evidence of Planet X in 1930.

He wondered what it should be called, Phair said in the film, which was released in April We all wondered, and then I said, 'Why not call it Pluto?' And the whole thing stemmed from that.

Despite some controversy, Pluto was the unanimous choice of scientists at Arizona's Lowell Observatory, which had photographed the distant planet.

The Times said Phair's son is her only survivor.