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.
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.
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 WP.org posts