Never discount the power of popular culture. Star Trek still lives and will forever in scientific circles if ‘the people’ get their way.
A couple weeks back the SETI Institute, a private, non-profit organization based in Mountain View, Cal. dedicated to looking for signs of intelligent life in the greater universe, started a contest to name the most recently discovered moons of Pluto. Astronomers found found little “P4″ and “P5″ on images taken in 2011 and 2012 with the Hubble Space Telescope. Both are only about 6-21 miles across.
The Institute decided wanted to get the public involved in giving the two mini-moons permanent names and came up with the contest idea they call “Pluto Rocks: Help Us Name the Smallest Moons of Pluto.” Voting ends today at 11 a.m. Central Time (noon EST). To cast yours, click HERE and then check off a name from the list or write-in your own candidate.
Guess which name is leading the gang? Vulcan! Which totally makes sense. Of all the planets depicted on the Star Trek TV and movie series, it was a favorite, Home to the chilly if endearing Mister Spock, Vulcan is also the Roman god of fire including the fiery lavas of volcanoes.
Pluto and its three named moons – Charon, Nix and Hydra – are all named for mythological associations with Hades and the Underworld. That’s why all the candidates listed have some association with darkness, death, fire and hell. No wonder Vulcan’s leading by a mile in the tally. As Spock might say, “it’s only logical.”
As of 9:34 a.m. CST, Vulcan was way ahead of the pack with some 170,000 votes; the nearest contender at about 90,000 was Cerberus, the 3-headed hound that guards the gates of the Underworld to prevent anyone from escaping. You might recall a similar dog named Fluffy modeled on Cerberus that guarded a secret passageway in the movie Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
When all the votes are tallied, the name of the winner will be proposed by the SETI folks to the International Astronomical Union, whose nomenclature committee assigns names to solar system bodies and their surface features.
Are you a Vulcan fan or do you prefer something more esoteric like Melinoe, the bringer of nightmares and madness? Head on over and vote while you still can. I’ll update the blog with the winner this afternoon. If Vulcan does win, this fictional planet will finally become a real destination. How fun is that?
** UPDATE: After more than 450,000 people voted, the winners are … Vulcan and Cerberus.