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Pluto’s Tiny Moons Finally Get Names: Kerberos And Styx

July 2, 2013

John P. Millis, PhD for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Previously known simply as P4 and P5, the two smallest moons of the dwarf planet Pluto have officially been given new names. Discovered in 2011 and 2012 respectively, these two tiny bodies were found only after deep exposures using the Hubble Space Telescope.

In order to choose new names for the icy bodies, an Internet poll was conducted in February of 2012. More than 500,000 votes were cast, half of which originated outside of the United States. Respondents were given a list of choices, but were also allowed to write in suggestions. The administrators of the poll were shocked to find more than 30,000 names were submitted.

William Shatner suggested the name Vulcan - home world of the Star Trek character Spock. His submission actually garnered the most number of votes. However, the results of the poll were submitted to the International Astronomical Union, the body officially tasked with naming the heavenly bodies.

After careful consideration, the IAU panel ruled that Vulcan could not be honored as the name for one of Pluto’s moons as it was already in use in astronomy and also didn’t quite meet the strict naming criteria. (Specifically, the moons of Pluto must derive from names associated with the Underworld in Greek and Roman Mythology. While Vulcan is the name for the Roman God of volcanoes, it was not deemed part of the Underworld mythology.)

Consequently, the second and third place vote getters were chosen as the new names: Kerberos and Styx. Scientists will get a much closer look at the two objects when the spacecraft New Horizons visits the Pluto system in 2015.

According to Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, and Principal Investigator of the New Horizons mission, “The discoveries of Kerberos and Styx add to the mysteries surrounding the formation of the Pluto system.”


Source: John P. Millis, PhD for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online



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