Help Give Pluto's Moons Better Names

By Wesley Fenlon

The SETI team wants your help naming Pluto's two smallest moons. All it takes is a quick vote.

The astronomy community, full of some of the brightest minds on Earth, can't collectively decide what, exactly, qualifies a planet as a planet. In 2008, they held a Great Planet Debate after many astronomers and many more regular joes took umbrage at Pluto's reclassification. Two years before, Pluto was taken down a peg--reclassified as a dwarf planet and a plutoid, not a true planet. The gang was narrowed down to eight, and there was nothing we could do about it. But now we can do something even cooler: Name Pluto's moons.

Even as a dwarf planet, Pluto gets to lay claim to its moons, and it has more of them than we ever knew. It's a bit tough to scope out Pluto's corner of the galaxy--at its perihelion, or closest point to the Sun, Pluto is about 2.75 billion miles away. In the last two years, two new Plutonian moons have been discovered, and right now they're named P4 and P5. Boring. But not for long.

Image Credit: NASA

As reported by Wired, The Seti Institute has created a website to allow anyone and everyone to help name Pluto's two smallest moons. Voting lasts until February 25th. It's an international effort--the website is available in a dozen languages--and the team is even taking write-in submissions if you don't like their suggested names.

There is one condition, though: P4 and P5's new names have to come from Greek or Roman mythology and must relate to the underworld, which Pluto ruled (he also went by the names Hades and Pluton). As as result, the suggested names will be familiar to mythology buffs--Cerberus, Hercules, Persephone, and Styx are all in contention. All of them will fit right in with Pluto's other moons Charon, Nix and Hydra.

SETI's Pluto Rocks! website even includes some helpful links to the Wikipedia pages for each mythological figure. Obol seems like a natural choice to pair up with Charon, but what about the second name? There may be a certain irony in naming the smallest moon of the smallest "planet" in the solar system after Hercules.

The winners will be be passed onto the International Astronomical Union, who will hopefully approve them and officially cement thousands (or millions!) of votes as important voices in the history of astronomy.