Your Chance to Name Pluto’s New Moons

Even though Pluto may have been officially kicked out of the major planet club, the number of moons orbiting the dwarf planet has increased by two in just the last couple of years.  And now astronomers need your help in naming these newly discovered moons.

The naming contest for two of the tiniest satellites, measuring only 15 and 20 miles (20 and 30 km), was launched this week by the discoverers. They spotted the cosmic pair while using the Hubble space telescope to map the space around Pluto in preparation for New Horizon spacecraft’s flyby in 2015. 

The unnamed worldlets- now only known as P4 and P5- are joining the little family of moons that include Charon, Hydra and Nix.  Sitting at the dark and frigid outer reaches of the solar system, all members of this system have names related to the ancient Greek mythological god of the underworld, Hades; which the ancient Romans called Pluto. Charon, the largest moon represents the ferryman of Pluto, while Hydra is a nightmarish monster, and Nix is an evil goddess.

“The Greeks were great storytellers and they have given us a colorful cast of characters to work with,” said Mark Showalter, Senior Research Scientist at the Carl Sagan Center of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California in a statement.

Because astronomers like to have things categorized and in order, other planetary moon systems also are named by a set of rules. For example the moons of Jupiter are named after the love interests of the Jovian god while those circling Uranus get their names from classical English literature.

Online voting will last two weeks, ending Feb. 25 after which the top suggestions will be handed over to the International Astronomical Union – the governing body that officially names celestial objects.

Twelve choices based on this underworld mythology are already available online at . As of Thursday morning two appear tied for first place – Cerebus and Styx with Persephone coming in a strong second.  However if none of the ones on the current list catch your fancy, then Showalter and his team are open to alternative suggestion.

And that’s exactly how the current third place holder, Vulcan, got on the list – thanks to the suggestion of William Shatner aka Captain James T. Kirk of the Star Trek TV and movie fame. The fictional home planet of Mr. Spock just happens to be not only the god of molten lava in Roman myths, but also appropriately enough the nephew of Pluto.


Changing Planet

Meet the Author
Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.