Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Names for Pluto

If you’ve kept track of the various space trips we’ve sent machines on, you are aware that New Horizons is approaching Pluto. Of course, that was launched some 9 years ago, and some of us have trouble remembering what we had for breakfast. But I saw an article in January of this year that the New Horizons was ‘waking up,’ getting ready for the closest fly-by of Pluto ever. So I’ve kept my eyes open for updates on that.
In the meantime, I’ve discovered that Pluto has not just 1, but 5 moons! I’ve known about Charon for a long time, and it’s almost as large as Pluto. But the others are mere specks in comparison, and are named Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx. I think I see a pattern in these names.
Recently, I saw an article asking people to submit and vote on names for when they start creating maps of Pluto’s and Charon’s surfaces, once New Horizons sends back photos taken close enough to show geological features. I hope they pick some good ones. I don’t want Pluto and Charon saddled with names like ‘Tom’s Mountain Range’ and ‘Smith’s Canyon’.
Again, they are looking for names for geological features. They don’t expect to find cities, villages or roads. Nor are they likely to find rivers, lakes or oceans... although I suppose there is some possibility that something may have frozen into long strings or blobs that might bear some resemblance to waterways. Mars has its ‘canals’, and now the bed of an ancient ocean. Even the moon has areas called oceans and seas, though it’s not likely any water ever sat in them.
So, do start coming up with names to propose for mountains, crevices, plateaus, craters and so on. The naming campaign is being promoted by SETI. You can propose names - and vote - at through April 7, which is only a few days away. The International Astronomical Union will decide which names will actually be used.

I wonder why there’s such a hurry to get a list generated? New Horizons’ closest approach won’t be until July of this year, the pictures won’t arrive here until after that, and then the maps will be begun. So, what would be your guess? A year from now, will that map be done and all the features named?

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