While Pluto may not be a planet anymore, many are excited to be able to name two of its moons. As of now, the moon names are P4 and P5, but since these are sort of boring, a website set up by SETI is letting the public choose Pluto’s new moon names.
Site Pluto Rocks allows people to choose from a list of names while also letting them suggest their own.
Even speakers of other languages can vote, as the site offers translations of the Pluto name options.
“I really want this to be something the whole world can be involved in,” moon-finder Mark Showalter, an astronomer at the SETI Institute, said.
Naming a moon, however, is not as easy as some might think.
“Naming astronomical objects isn’t as simple as deciding whether to name your dog, ‘Dog.’”
Conventions set forth by the International Astronomical Union states that moons cannot be given names that are already taken by asteroids.
For Pluto, naming is particularly difficult, as its system must be mythologically-named and related to the dominion of Hades.
Those looking to name the planets something funny are out of luck.
“So no matter how many write-in votes are cast for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert or Ren and Stimpy, those famous pairs will not take their place in the celestial hall of names (at least, not as Plutonian moons).”
The options they provide on the site include: Acheron, Alecto, Cererus, Erebus, Eurydice, Hercules, Hypnos, Lethe, Obol, Orpheus, Persephone, and Styx. The planet’s largest moon is already named Charon, after the boatman who carries souls across the river Styx.
Votes will be taken until February 25. Once they discover which names came in on top, they will be passed on to the IAU’s nomenclature committee.
IAU has final say on the names, but Showalter thinks they won’t have a problem with it.
“They know we’re doing this,” Showalter said. “We will make a good case for the names. And we will be able to use the way people have voted as an argument in favor of the names that we have put forward.”
It’s very fitting that Pluto’s moons are being named by the public, as that is how the planet received its own name.
In 1930, astronomer Clyde Tombaugh wanted help naming the planet. The winning name came from an 11-year-old named Venetia Burney.
“I like to think that we are doing honor to Tombaugh’s legacy by now opening up the naming of Pluto’s two tiniest known moons to everyone,” Showalter said.