Since we’re all in the democratic mood here today in the U.S., how about another chance to put your vote in on something: names for Pluto’s newest moons!
It’s been almost 4 months since the announcement of Pluto’s fifth moon, and nearly a year and a half since the discovery of the one before that. But both moons still have their initial letter-and-number designations, P5 and P4, respectively… not very imaginative, to say the least, and not really fitting into the pantheon of mythologically-named worlds in our Solar System.
Of course, official naming conventions exist per the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and so the names for Pluto’s new moons should follow along with the others; that is, have some relation to Greek mythology insofar as they pertain to denizens of the underworld, over which Pluto was master.
According to Life’s Little Mysteries:
Pluto was the god of the underworld in Roman mythology. Charon, the largest of Pluto’s moons, is named after the mythical ferryman who carried the souls of the newly deceased across the River Styx, which separated the world of the living from that of the dead. Nix, Pluto’s second-closest moon, was the Greek goddess of darkness and night, and Charon’s mother. Hydra, the third closest to Pluto, was a many-headed serpent that guarded a back entrance to the underworld located deep below the surface of a lake.
In other words, “Mickey”, “Walt”, or “Clyde” (as in Tombaugh) wouldn’t be considered, however appropriate they might seem to some.
According to the New Horizons research team, after the discovery of P4 in June 2011 it was decided to wait to see if any more moons were discovered (and a year later there was) so as to be able to choose names that fit together as a pair, while also following accepted IAU convention. As such, now that we have a P4 and P5 (both in dire need of honest names!) I think a decision is in order. And of course how better to decide such things but by popular vote!
“There are dozens of ideas but nothing is close to settled,” New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern told Life’s Little Mysteries in July 2011. “When we discovered P4, I was on the side of advocating waiting to see if we discovered more moons and then naming them as a group, like we did with Nix and Hydra.”
So what do you think the IAU should name Pluto’s newest moons? I’d asked it before the discovery of P5 and so I’ve put some suggestions onto a new ballot below, and feel free to suggest your own as well. If we get enough, I’ll send them over to someone on the New Horizons team… who knows, you may help decide the future of astronomical nomenclature!
POLL RESULTS: If you want to only count the first day of voting, we have a winner! It was a tight race, but the voters have spoken: Alecto and Melinoe have come out on top with 33.3% of the votes, with Orpheus and Eurydice trailing at 27%. Those are the results, now here’s some details on the winning candidates:
Alecto was one of the three Furies, madness-inspiring deities in Greek mythology with bat wings, bloody eyes and snake hair. According to Virgil, she was a daughter of Pluto. (Her sisters were Megaera and Tisiphone… also possible names? Hmm.)
Melinoe was a daughter of Persephone (who was the wife of Pluto). She also brings nightmares and madness, although a bit more subtly than the (literally) furious Alecto.