Naming a body in the solar system is a pretty big deal. Excluding asteroids, there have been perhaps a couple hundred objects named in the last two thousand years. And the chances are running out quickly - Uranus and Neptune might be the only planets with undiscovered moons, and outer dwarf planets are decades from getting a close-up. Don't despair, however, because now YOU can join in the naming of two moons of Pluto!
A couple of years ago, a team led by Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute discovered the two moons while looking for rings around Pluto (No rings were found, which is good news for the New Horizons mission). By default, the moons were given the very classy names P4 & P5. But like any proper moon, they deserve a real name, and the time has come for this to happen.
Naming something in space is actually pretty tough. Names for celestial bodies are governed by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which places certain restrictions on what sort of name can be selected. Most importantly, each planet's moons are named to correspond with a particular theme. The themes are:
- Mars: Horses which drew Mars' chariot in the Iliad
- Jupiter: Lovers and descendants of Zeus
- Saturn: Greek/Roman Titans and giants of all cultures
- Uranus: Shakespearean characters and characters from Pope's "Rape of the Lock"
- Neptune: Greek/Roman characters associated with Neptune/Poseidon
- Pluto: Greek/Roman denizens of the underworld
(As an aside: I suppose no one can accuse astronomers of being poorly-read...)
All of the moons of Mars are believed to be discovered, and the same may be true of Jupiter and Saturn. Uranus and Neptune haven't really been studied that closely and a future orbiter would be likely to find some additional satellites. Pluto should be pretty well flushed out by the time New Horizons passes by in 2015.
Showalter and SETI have compiled a list of suggestions, but anyone can write in their own as long as it matches the criteria. They're careful to point out that any winners are not binding selections - sorry Stephen Colbert!
Interested in being a part of history? Click the source link below and cast your votes: