Naming Pluto’s Moons
Voters pick names for the dwarf planet’s newly discovered moons
Names were selected on Monday for the two tiny moons recently found in orbit around the dwarf planet Pluto. The moons, which are only 6 to 20 miles across, had been given the temporary names P4 and P5. So the SETI Institute, which discovered the moons, asked people to help it pick names in an online poll.
More than 450,000 people cast their votes for 21 possible names. The results? Vulcan and Cerberus are the people’s choice for the new names of the tiny moons. If the International Astronomical Union approves, the names will become official.
Pluto was once considered the smallest planet in our solar system. It was also the farthest from the sun. But in 2006, the International Astronomical Union decided it didn’t meet all the requirements to be considered a planet. So Pluto was changed to a dwarf planet.
Scientists at SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) found the moons with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Pluto already had three known moons, named Charon, Nix, and Hydra.
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The names listed in the poll are all from Greek and Roman myths about Hades, god of the underworld. (Pluto is the Roman name for Hades.) Cerberus is the name of the three-headed hound that guards the gates of the underworld.
Vulcan, the first place winner of the poll, was not on the initial list. The actor William Shatner, who played Captain James T. Kirk on the 1960s Star Trek TV series and in several later movies, suggested it for the poll.
“So what do you think of the idea of naming the two moons of Pluto Vulcan and Romulus?” Shatner wrote on Twitter.
Vulcan is a god of fire and a nephew of Hades, and Romulus is one of the two mythical founders of Rome. But both names are also from the Star Trek series, which has generations of passionate fans.
In Star Trek, Vulcan is the name of the home planet of the character Spock. After fans of the series wrote to SETI, the Institute added Vulcan to the poll. The name then won with nearly 40 percent of the vote.
This would not be the first time that the public’s ideas have been used to name celestial bodies in our solar system. In 1930, the name Pluto was picked for the planet after it was suggested by Venetia Burney, an 11-year-old from England!