TORONTO — Space exploration may be relegated to scientists, but naming rights? We can do that.
Right now NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is hurtling at unprecedented speed for a flyby of the once-planet Pluto (it was “demoted” in 2006 to a dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union).
Pluto is still a mysterious world to astronomers: we know that it is an icy world and that it has five moons, the largest of which is Charon. We also know that it has a thin atmosphere. But Hubble images also have shown that Pluto likely has features. And if it does, then what will we call them? Well, you can help scientists decide.
The SETI Institute has launched its “Our Pluto” campaign, inviting the public to vote on names that could be used by NASA scientists in naming particular features on Pluto.
“Pluto belongs to everyone,” said New Horizon science team member Mark Showalter, a senior research scientist at the SETI Institute. “So we want everyone to be involved in making the map of this distant world.”
The naming is broken up into three categories: the History of Exploration; Literature of Exploration and Mythology of the Underworld (Pluto is the god of the underworld in Greek mythology). Though you are free to suggest names based on those three categories, the non-profit scientific organization has suggested several from cultures around the world.
Included are names like French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, Chinese explorer Zheng He and Icelandic explorer Leif Erikson. There are gods of the underworld from Shinto mythology, Egyptian mythology and the Aztecs.
And yes: science fiction is well represented with names like Kirk/Spock/Uhura/Sulu (all as one) and Vulcan from Star Trek, and even Alderaan/Tatooine/Hoth/Endor (all as one) from Star Wars. There are even names from cult television shows like Firefly and Doctor Who.
“The Pluto flyby this summer will be a major milestone in planetary exploration,” said Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of the New Horizons project. “We are really looking forward to hearing the public’s ideas for feature naming on Pluto and Charon.”
New Horizons is expected to make its closest flyby to Pluto on July 14.