Vulcan, Cerberus win vote for Pluto moon names

With voting closed, the names Vulcan and Cerberus have been selected by the public for the two recently-discovered moon of Pluto.  Vulcan proved to be particularly popular, with nearly double the votes of any other choice. It was helped, no doubt, by relentless campaigning from Star Trek actor William Shatner, who repeatedly tweeted his million-plus followers in an effort to get out the vote.  Nearly 450,000 votes were cast among all the choices.

So what's the meaning behind these two names?  Vulcan was the Roman god of fire.  Often shown wielding a blacksmith's hammer, he was the armorer of the gods.  Not to be too single minded, he also crafted art and jewelry.  The process of converting pure rubber into the material for tires and other applications, vulcanization, is named in his honor.  Of course, Vulcan today is far more famous as the home world of Spock, science officer aboard the Enterprise in the original Star Trek series.

Cerberus is the famed three-headed dog who guarded the entrance to the underworld.  He ensures that those who have died and crossed the river Styx cannot escape the underworld and return to the mortal lands.  His strength was overcome only by the hero Heracles, who captured him bare handed and dragged the hound into the world.  There he so frightened the king that Heracles cast him back into the underworld for all time.

A blacksmith and a dog seem like fitting companions for the ruler of the underworld.  We'll have to wait and see, however, if they get to join him.  The vote was only advisory to the SETI Institute researchers who discovered the moons, and the International Astronomical Union always has the final say.