Any mention of Pluto among astronomy buffs, around water coolers and in comments sections, is enough to spark controversy. When the diminutive world officially became known as a dwarf planet in 2006, many took the “demotion” personally. But an announcement today from the SETI Institute might just be cool enough to bring everyone together.
The discoverers of Pluto’s two smallest moons are reaching out to the world for help in naming them. Currently designated P4 and P5, these tiny satellites were discovered in 2011 and 2012, respectively, using Hubble Space Telescope data. These were always temporary labels, though, and the time has come to select their official names. There might be even more moons lurking around the former planet, but the thing about Pluto is it’s really, really far, and even for Hubble the entire system registers as little more than dots. Plus, these moons are really small, only about 20 miles across max, making others like them extra hard to spot.
Like the names of Pluto’s other moons — Nix, Hydra, and Charon — the newest ones will need to come from mythology. Specifically, they’ll have to relate to the underworld, Pluto’s (and Hades’) domain. Luckily, the teams that discovered P4 and P5 have already come up with a few intriguing suggestions. Anyone interested in being a part of history and helping name a solar system moon can visit http://plutorocks.seti.org to vote for their favorites. And if you don’t like any of the choices (which include my picks, “Cerberus” and “Hypnos”), you can suggest new ones via a write-in form.
That’s right: There exists a website where you can enter a word that might become the name of at least one moon of Pluto. The chance only lasts two weeks, though, ending Feb. 25, so vote early and often (though you’re asked to limit yourself to just once a day), no matter how you feel about Pluto’s planetary status.