Ah, Pluto. It brings back memories of my favorite middle school planetary acronym, “My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.” In 2003, though, something about Pluto’s size and location made astronomers at the International Astronomical Union uncomfortable and led them to reclassify it as a dwarf planet, a fact we astronomical sentimentalists too often lament. That’s right, no more pizza; now she’s just making nachos.
But, that is old news. Pluto has had some limelight lately on some of the top science news websites with an exciting new opportunity for the average internet-goer. In 2011 and 2012, the Hubble Space Telescope discovered Pluto’s two smallest moons (from more than 3 billion miles away), and scientists tentatively named them P4 and P5. It turns out, though, that P4 and P5 just aren’t spicy enough names for the city-sized pieces of rock, so the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence Institute is looking for public input. They have set up plutorocks.com, a site looking for the votes of anyone and everyone to determine the new names of these lunar beauties. There’s even a write-in option if you have your own brilliant suggestion!
Sorry, you can’t name it after your Valentine’s Day sweetheart (if you have one); astronomers are apparent admirers of Roman and Greek myth, so the names have to have some mythological origin. Moons are even typically named so to depict some sort of relationship with the main planet. Pluto is the Roman name for the Greek god of the underworld, Hades. It already has three named moons: Charon, the boatsmen who ferried the souls of the dead to the underworld, Nix, the goddess of the night, and Hydra, the name of a many-headed monster that guarded an entrance to the underworld. All of the current options for names are unsurprisingly also related to the underworld, with Cerberus and Styx as the favorites.
You can only vote once a day, and though the SETI Institute seems completely intent on allowing the voters to decide, they remind us that the IAU ultimately has the final authority on the naming of P4 and P5. Never has there been a time when it has been more important for an individual to exercise his/her right to vote on lunar nomenclature than now, in this instant. Don’t be lazy. Click on the link and vote for your favorite underworld-related figure (or just the one that sounds coolest). And don’t be afraid to ask your favorite GUSA candidate which name they support … it’s an important issue.
Deadline: 12 p.m. EST on Monday, Feb. 25, 2013.
*Simply Science is a reoccurring post that aims to make recent scientific discoveries accessible and applicable to the Georgetown student.