Name a Plutonian moon

Image: NASA

Image: NASA

It’s not every day that your name will go down in the history books, but astronomer Mark Showalter could help you get there. He and his coworkers at the SETI Institute are collecting suggestions for Pluto’s two newly-discovered moons, now known as P4 and P5.

By visiting their website, aptly-named Pluto Rocks! over the next two weeks, you can vote on name ideas or submit some of your own. Then Showalter will submit the most popular ideas to the International Astronomical Union, which is in charge of deciding on the names. While there’s no guarantee that the IAU will pick the selection from Pluto Rocks!, Showalter says the organization is aware of the contest and will consider the importance of a name chosen by the public.

Unfortunately, you can’t go naming the moons Derrick and Rose, your favorite beers, or after your two grandmothers (unless their names are Eurydice and Persephone). According to the IAU’s nomenclature rules, the names must be thematically connected to the legend of Pluto, the Roman god of the Underworld (Pain and Panic won’t work either. That’s a Disney movie, guys…).

Showalter and his colleagues have another reason for opening up the naming process to the public. Pluto’s discoverer Clyde Tombaugh named the tiny planet in 1930 using the same process, albeit without the internet. The winner was 11-year-old Venetia Burney, and Pluto was christened.

P4 and P5 were discovered in 2011 and 2012 respectively, and so far we haven’t seen much of them aside from fuzzy images. That will change in 2015, when space probe New Horizons will pass by Pluto, snapping photos and sending them home to Earth as it travels.


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