The road ends, but the journey continues...

PLUTO my favorite planet next to Mars…

When I was growing up I had an imaginary friend. Her name was Zelda. Zelda was a witch. That’s right, this little half-Italian Catholic girl had an imaginary witch-friend. She flew on a broom stick and traveled to oh so many places I could never go. Like Pluto. Actually, Zelda lived on the planet Pluto.
Pluto, my favorite planet next to Mars…
When I was an 8th grader in what was then called Jr. High, I entered the science fair. It was kind of a new thing in the 60s, not at all required for students as part of any pre-set curriculum.
My project was an in-depth study of – you guessed it – the planet Mars. I won several firsts and seconds and ultimately made it through district with an Honorable Mention. That HM meant I couldn’t go on to ‘state’, but it was still quite a feat! Back then, this thirteen-year-old school girl scientist didn’t know that it was considered unusual for a girl to be interested in math and science.
Scroll up a few decades to the 21st century.
When New Horizons was launched in 2006, hubby and I kept periodic tabs on its journey. As the internet improved, so did the ease with which we were able to keep up with all the photos and info NASA had to offer. The Jupiter fly-by photos in 2007 awed and inspired the world – talk about in-your-face beauty.
Early on in the mission, it came out that Queen’s Brian May is also Dr. Brian May the astrophysicist. Because he was dubbed an official “science team collaborator” to the New Horizons Team, I scrutinized his collaborations to see if rock stardom would overshadow scientific curiosity.
I was not disappointed, Dr. Brian is the real deal on both counts.
I’m confident he helped advance the cause of math and science showing nerdiness to be on a par with rock stardom.

pluto and charon from new horizons

Pluto & Charon from New Horizons

By late 2014 New Horizons began its Pluto encounter, rapidly entering into its approach phase to the planet. The infamous Pluto fly-by began in July 2015 while it was a mere 7,800 miles above the surface of Pluto. That’s just 601 miles above Santa Fe, NM in terms of an Earth distance comparison!
Because of this close encounter of the (formerly) 9th kind*, a map of Pluto was compiled featuring names recognizing people of significance to Pluto.  Approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in September 2017, it includes an area named after an 11-year old girl.
pluto features map

Map of Pluto with features approved by the IAU, September 2017

Burney crater honors Venetia Burney (1918-2009), who as an 11-year-old schoolgirl suggested the name “Pluto” for Clyde Tombaugh’s newly discovered planet. Later in life she taught mathematics and economics.
I wonder if Zelda ever visited Venetia as a young child growing up in Oxford, England back in the day?
*Pluto was considered to be the 9th planet in our solar system back when I was a child…now it is classified as a Dwarf Planet.
Pluto photo credit, Pluto map credit

note: this is for day five of my 6 years on posts


  1. Jennie Fitzkee

    Fabulous post, Laura. I still wonder if poor Pluto is a real planet, or kind of in the dog house. You were the lucky one to not know that science and math weren’t cool. I’m not surprised you’re a musician among other wonderful things. Math and music are definitely connected. And Zelda is delightful!

    • laura bruno lilly

      Zelda thanks you!

  2. Andy

    My favourite has always been Mars. All those land photographs we’re blessed with now. As a Whovian you will now that many years ago it was populated by the Ice Warriors, of course.
    Recently watched an amazing series, The Planets, fronted by Mancunian Brian Cox. Also, one last Mars connection with a music bent-I can recall my first week in high school, In Drama, we had to listen to a piece of music while imaging the ferocity and devastation of the Great Fire of London. The music was Holst’s Mars, from The Planets. I think the two artistic creations that stayed with me from my school days were The Planets and To Kill A Mockingbird.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Sounds like you had great teachers…picking pieces (literary and musical) that appeal to adolescent males…making it cool and hence stay with you forever!
      Oh yeah, I liked those Ice Warriors!

  3. Mariss Stevens

    It was good to meet Zelda and to learn about Venetia

    • laura bruno lilly

      Thinking about Zelda has been fun. And nice to know she’s welcome in my adult circle of acquaintances, too! HA!

  4. Bette Cox

    I have always loved little Pluto too… and then I discovered it has many companions! Actually I love lots of stuff about space, had entered college planning to be an astrophysicist but alas, dropped out to get married in 1961. Take a peek at 🙂

    • laura bruno lilly

      Thanks for stopping by, Bette.
      One of my roommates in college was the only woman in the astrophysics major. We discovered each other in the Math classes required for each of our respective majors (mine was a dual Math and Biology degree). Except for her, I was the only female in many of my required classes…
      If not for the physics required, I’d have loved to have been an astronaut, too!

  5. Mary J Puckett

    Is Pluto still a non-planet, or has it been reinstated?

    • laura bruno lilly

      Dwarf Planet is it’s current designation…exo-planet, too? Not sure about the exo status or what that really means. Will have to explore that more fully for my own curiosity’s sake.

  6. Marty

    I’m grateful for this post, Laura, because I had sort of stopped keeping track of poor Pluto’s current situation. I have cartoonish thoughts that its probably had enough of Earth’s righteous proclamations and is ready to ignore OUR actual existence. Turnabout is fair play.
    I too remember junior high. I still think it has a better ring than to be a middling.

    • laura bruno lilly

      You’re right…’middling’ implies a sort of stuckness rather than with jr. high which sounds like one advances at some point.
      But I’m sure you just meant how the words actually sounded.
      I like the idea of Pluto ignoring us due to our alien outsider imposition on its state of affairs (or planethood).

  7. Catherine de Seton

    thanks for adding to my learning…I’ve never really thought about the solar system – planets et al.
    and fancy that an 11 year old girl named the planet as we know it today…

  8. Janis

    I’m a fan of Pluto too. For the longest time, I thought it was named after Mickey Mouse’s dog. So, now that I think of it, why didn’t they call it a puppy planet, rather than a dwarf planet? Nothing against dwarfs, but everyone loves puppies, right?

    • laura bruno lilly

      Oh what a great play on Disney-words…dwarfs aren’t related to Pluto the dog at all, you’re right!
      Puppy Planet…fun!

  9. Anne

    I love space travel too. I wanted to be an astronaut. However, after recently reading “Packing for Mars” I am glad it was only a pipe dream! Have you read it? It examines all the different aspects of humans travelling to Mars, surviving weightlessness, personal hygiene, food etc, by looking at how they were overcome by previous space exploration. It’s a fun read!

    • laura bruno lilly

      I’ll have to look that up! I’ve often felt that the actual realities involved with space travel would be beyond my personal abilities to cope…even if the rewards would be exemplary.
      Years ago, I did pick up a novel about the first colony on Mars and then quit cuz it ended up being an American Problem-filled society on another planet…not very imaginative.
      Then there’s the classic Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury…classics are always dependably great!!!!

      • Anne

        Oh yes, Ray Bradbury!

        • laura bruno lilly

          Dandelion Wine is my fav of his…how about you?

  10. Jane Chesebrough

    Random thoughts: First Pluto was a planet, then it wasn’t , then I heard it was, once again but then as a “mini.”. Hard to keep up with the changes. You had a great imagination as a child with your friend, Zelda and it is great that a part of the moon was named for another nine-year old girl. But maybe other beings already have names for that planet and those places on it. Ha, to think we are the only life in the universe! Another thought, I think it is so cool that Dr. Brian May is also a member of a famous rock band. You have quite an eclectic selection for your celebration of 6 years on WP. Congratulations!

    • laura bruno lilly

      Many thanks, Jane!

  11. Robert G Cloud

    OK , I have a question. Now don’t laugh but I’m curious about how a ‘scale’ is established to be used to measure horizontal and vertical planes necessary in mapping. Do today’s telescopic instruments have that capability built in using the diameter of the planet’s image or does ‘Zelda’ do it?

    • laura bruno lilly

      Map making is an art and science all to itself. I haven’t a clue about those measurements, and I’ve often wondered if the ‘scale’ is skewed because of curvature of the images and such…
      So until I learn otherwise, I’ll just say Zelda does it!
      ps-and no, I’m not laughing.

      • Robert G Cloud

        Zelda is very talented. Any outstanding warrants?

        • laura bruno lilly

          She’s too clever, that one!

  12. Roseanne

    Good Morning Laura! What an interesting post. Back in the day, I don’t think girls were encouraged at all to be interested in math and science. I was always good at math (in spite of my quilting experiences of late) but the most I got to do was take advanced math in Jr. High. Finally in high school I took a binary math/science class and got to see the programming side of things. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed reading today and I still think of Pluto as a planet. Happy Friday! ~smile~ Roseanne

    • laura bruno lilly

      Seems to be the consensus around here – one more for Planet Pluto!

  13. Ally Bean

    I didn’t know how Pluto came to get its name. Good job, Venetia. I refuse to believe that Pluto is not a planet. Honestly, with so much turmoil in the world where’s the harm in letting us all go to sleep at night believing there are nine planets out there? A little scientific nostalgia, as it were. I love NASA, but on this point I differ with their reasoning.

    • laura bruno lilly

      I love your reasoning, Ally!
      Enjoy your weekend.

  14. L. Marie

    I still think of Pluto as a planet rather than a dwarf planet. So cool to see a map of it. I’m working on a sci-fi novel so it’s interesting to see any kind of map of a planet. And how cool that Venetia Burney was honored in such a way!

    • laura bruno lilly

      Me, too. But the thing I like about the Dwarf Planet designation is that it was created after evidence piled up about a whole bunch of Dwarf Planets being a part of our solar system. It helped put all those odd rotational paths into perspective. Plus opened up a whole new realm of planets close to us that have atmospheres and water and such to explore!
      Can’t wait to hear about your sci-fi novel!
      Have a great weekend, L. Marie.

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