‘Vulcan’ Winning In Pluto Moon-naming Contest – It’s Only Logical

July 2012 photo taken by the Hubble Space Telescope showing the five moons of the dwarf planet Pluto. P4 and P5 are preliminary names that may soon get permanent ones based on contest results.  Credit: NASA, ESA

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.

The tally as of 9:34 a.m. CST this morning Feb. 25, 2013. Looks like Vulcan and Cerberus are in the lead. Credit: SETI Institute

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.

10 Responses

  1. Edward M. Boll

    I do not know if you caught it yet but John Drummond on Feb. 24 saw Panstaars and put it’s brightness at 3.0 magnitude.

  2. Jan delvaux

    If my memory is correct Vulcan was a mythologic planet with an orbit within Mercury’s orbit. It was even searched for in the 19th century, in an attempt to explain certain fluctuations in Mercury’s orbit. A bit strange therefore to now use this name for an object in an extremely cold environment. For the Star Trek lovers : Spock could shut down the use of his eyes. This was a defense against the extreme light solar flares could cause on Vulcan.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Jan,
      Thanks for the Spock tidbit. Yes, you’re right about Vulcan. There was an even a spurious sighting or two of the “planet” back then.

    2. Giorgio Rizzarelli

      Hello Jan, I agree. Even if Vulcan, the planet with orbit inside Mercury’s, revealed to be inexistent, it’s possible that asteroids with such orbits will be found, and the most used name used for such (hypothetycal) asteroids is Vulcanoids. It’s to see, then, if IAU will approve Vulcan for a Pluto’s moon.

      Naming Vulcan a Pluto’s moon was proposed by William Shatner – Cap. Kirk in Star Trek – and many fans followed his idea.
      On my mind Vulcan, right because I’m a Trek appreciator, the name would be better to be saved for a (hot) exoplanet (if someday proper names wil be introduced for them) rather than a 10-20km sized icy stone. But if Vulcan is accepted for a Pluto’s moon, I’ll be anyway happy for Trekkies.

      If you’re interested, here’s more of my thoughts about (replace each (dot) string with a dot)

  3. Giorgio Rizzarelli

    Glad t have inspired your article Bob. Actually I discovered about this poll right here on your blog, from a comment of a follower.

  4. Alsunni

    Hi Could you tell me when is the IAU going to decide on the names of pluto
    moons P4 ,P5 discoverers said it would be two months from the end of the vote
    and now it is three months . will the I A U decide on the new names before summer 20 june 2013 ,

    1. astrobob

      I checked and I don’t find a definitive date on naming. Nothing shows on a nomenclature committee search.

  5. alsunni

    what is latest about pluto moons P4 P5 NAMING
    now they are considering vulcan and cerberus

Comments are closed.