Trekkies put their stamp on Pluto moon naming contest

After nearly a half million votes cast by the public, Pluto’s two tiniest moons may have new names—one of which could be named after the home world of famous fictional pointy-eared humanoid Mr. Spock.

Astronomer Michael Showalter and his team who discovered these tiny worldlets asked the online community for help in naming the moons, now known only as P4 and P5. The only stipulation for original entries was that names had to be associated with the gods of the underworld from Greek and Roman mythology, just like Pluto and its three other moons.

Originally there were just 12 names on a list to choose from, but thanks to the suggestion of famed actor William Shatner (aka Captain James T. Kirk from the original Star Trek television series), a new, wildly popular entry—Vulcan—took the lead early on. According to ancient Roman mythology, Vulcan is the god of lava and is also the nephew of Pluto.

After just over 450,000 votes in less than a month, the winners of the cosmic contest are Vulcan and Cerberus, the three-headed dog guarding the gates of the underworld.

Vulcan won the contest hands down, getting a whopping 174,064 votes. Cerberus came in a distant second with just over 99,000 votes.

In response to our own callout for names, our National Geographic News readers voted for some great ones. A few matched the leaders on the official list and some were just my personal favorites. These include:


Etna – the volcano Pluto came riding out of on his dark horses

Obol – the coin used during burial rituals to pay Charon, the ferryman of the river Styx

Hypnos and Thanatos – gods of sleep and death and sons of Nyx

Lethe and Cocytus – rivers of the underworld

Serapis – alternative name for Pluto

Romulus and Remus

Mickey and Minnie

Spot and Fido

Expectations are that it will take one to two months for the new moon names to be officially selected and approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). It will be interesting to see if professional stargazers will officially bless the Trekkie favorite Vulcan.

But hey, even actor Leonard Nimoy—who played the most famous representative from that fictional planet—chimed in on Twitter, saying it was the “logical choice.”

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.