Make Your Mark on Pluto by Helping Name Its Features

The New Horizons team is asking the public for help labeling the maps of Pluto and one of its moons

An artist's rendition of Pluto's surface. Walter Myers/Stocktrek Images/Corbis

We’re on the cusp of learning a whole lot more about everyone’s favorite freezing dwarf planet, Pluto. On July 14, after more than nine years spent traveling through space, NASA’s New Horizons craft will fly by Pluto and its largest moon Charon, capturing the very first close-up, detailed images of the two distant celestial bodies.

Both Pluto and Charon have been little more than blurred orbs to all of us on Earth but will soon come into focus as landmasses with geography—mountains, valleys, craters and ridges, as Kaleigh Rogers over at Motherboard points out. NASA wants to name all of these features, but the flyby will happen so quickly that the science team won’t have time to come up with titles in the moment. So, NASA is planning ahead—and asking for help.

Anyone can now vote for the names that will go on Pluto and Charon’s maps. Here’s how it works: For each kind of geographical feature, NASA and the SETI Institute will appoint a theme and then name individual features based on that theme. There are ten categories, each with a dozen or more pre-selected names to vote on. And each of these categories resides within one of three broad themes: History of Exploration, Literature of Exploration and (since Pluto was the Greek god of the underworld) Mythology of the Underworld.

The provided options range from the highly educational—like Xuanzang, a Chinese monk who was an early traveler to India—to the pretty heavy metal—like H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu. You can choose from the names of fictional worlds, historical explorers, notable scientists and engineers, mythological travelers and even creatures of the underworld.

There will be a ton of features to name between both Pluto and Charon, so the New Horizons team is asking for you to vote for all of your favorite names in each theme. And if you don’t see a name you think should be included, you can submit your own suggestion for approval consideration.

The world has until April 7 to vote, at which point the New Horizons team will comb through the ballots and submit official suggestions to the International Astronomical Union (which gets final say).

A similar voting system was in place in 2013 to get the public’s input on the names of two of Pluto’s moons (now named Kerberos and Styx). And in 1930, it was an 11-year-old girl who suggested to her grandfather that the newly discovered body be named “Pluto."  The name was sent to the Lowell Observatory and eventually picked.

So get to voting on—there’s interstellar history to be made. 

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.