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Vote on Names for Pluto’s Teeny Moons

Styx, Orpheus, Erebus or something else? What should Pluto's moons be named?

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Pluto’s moons P4 and P5 won’t be P4 and P5 for much longer. Photo: NASA, ESA, M. Showalter (SETI Institute)

Back in the summer astronomers were watching Pluto carefully, on the hunt for a clear course for the New Horizons satellite, meant to buzz past the little former-planet in a couple of years. What the astronomers found, however, was a brand new moon, which they temporarily dubbed P5.

Pluto already had four moons: Nix, Hydra, Charon, and the also-unnamed P4. Now, says Nadia Drake for Wired, those placeholder names are to be replaced, and scientists at the SETI Institute want your votes to help pick the fate of Pluto’s P4 and P5.

The SETI team have a list of 12 names—each associated with ancient Greek and Roman tales of the underworld—and a form for you to submit your own ideas. Playful denizens of the internet may have hijacked polls like this one before, but strict naming conventions from the International Astronomical Union and the in-house rules that the names must fit the mythology will hopefully prevent any shenanigans. Plus, there’s a precedent for naming the furthest, smallest members of our solar system this way. Drake writes:

Opening the process to the public echoes the way in which Pluto itself earned its name, 82 years ago. In 1930, astronomer Clyde Tombaugh asked for help naming his newly discovered then-planet — and the winning suggestion came from 11-year-old 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 wrote. As for seeking help in naming a moon? “I can’t think of any time it’s been done before,” he said. “This is a first.”

Voting will be open until February 25th, but final approval for the selected name will lie with the IAU.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Will NASA’s Newest Crowdsourcing Gambit End with a Curiosity or a COLBERT?
Astronomers Find Pluto’s Fifth Moon

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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