By ALICIA CHANG, AP Science Writer
Wed Sep 13, 10:54 PM ET
LOS ANGELES - A distant, icy rock whose discovery shook up the solar system and led to Pluto's planetary demise has been given a name: Eris.
The christening of Eris, named after the Greek goddess of chaos and strife, was announced by the International Astronomical Union on Wednesday. Weeks earlier, the professional astronomers' group stripped Pluto of its planethood under new controversial guidelines.
Since its discovery last year, Eris, which had been known as 2003 UB313, ignited a debate about what constitutes a planet.
Astronomers were split over how to classify the object because there was no universal definition. Some argued it should be welcomed as the 10th planet since it was larger than Pluto, but others felt Pluto was not a full-fledged planet.
After much bickering, astronomers last month voted to shrink the solar system to eight planets, downgrading Pluto to a "dwarf planet," a category that also includes Eris and the asteroid Ceres.
Eris' discoverer, Michael Brown of the California Institute of Technology, said the name was an obvious choice, calling it "too perfect to resist."
In mythology, Eris caused a quarrel among goddesses that sparked the Trojan War. In real life, Eris forced scientists to define a planet that eventually led to Pluto getting the boot. Soon after Pluto's dismissal from the planet club, hundreds of scientists circulated a petition protesting the decision.
Eris' moon also received a formal name: Dysnomia, the daughter of Eris known as the spirit of lawlessness.
Eris, which measures about 70 miles wider than Pluto, is the farthest known object in the solar system at 9 billion miles away from sun. It is also the third brightest object located in the Kuiper belt, a disc of icy debris beyond the orbit of Neptune.
Eris had been without a formal name while astronomers grappled over its status. Brown nicknamed it "Xena" after the fictional warrior princess pending an official designation. He admits the new name will take some getting used to.
"It's a little sad to see Xena go away," he said.