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Emily LakdawallaFebruary 21, 2006

Suggestions for names of Pluto's moons

I received quite a number of emails containing suggested names for Pluto's moons -- thanks! I just sent all the suggestions to Alan Stern; here they are for everybody's enjoyment. I'll be tickled if they end up picking any of these, though of course I'm sure they have their own ideas. The thing I'm most curious about is whether the IAU will relax their requirements and permit the re-use of a name that's already been given to an asteroid. So many great names already belong to asteroids, which is making it increasingly difficult to find names for moons (though one could debate which is more deserving of the great name, the asteroid or the moon, or whether anyone would really be confused by there being two objects, an asteroid and a moon, with the same name. It's not like people have any trouble telling the difference between Paris, France and Paris, Texas). Anyway, here's all the suggestions.

Although the obvious ones aren't usable, a quick read of the Aeneid, the very heart of distinctly Roman mythology, turns up two very excellent options; Briareus and Geryon. One finds reference to them in book VI where Aeneas visits the underworld. To do so he must pass through the Cumaean gate to the Underworld which is guarded by many manner of spirit and apparition.

"Of various forms unnumber'd specters more,
Centaurs, and double shapes, besiege the door.
Before the passage, horrid Hydra stands,
and Briareus with all his hundred hands;
Gorgons, Geryon with his triple frame;
and vain Chimaera vomits empty flame."

There is already a Hydra constellation and 623 Chimaera but there is, as of yet, no celestial reference to Briareus and Geryon (Gorgon is also unused but that refers to a type of creature not a specific being). Briareus was one of the Hecatonchires who were giants with a hundred arms and fifty heads and incredible strength and ferocity. Geryon was a Titan with three heads, three bodies, and six arms and is best known from the story of the Twelve Labours of Hercules where the 10th labour was to steal the Cattle of Geryon. They come directly from a prime text of Roman mythology, they are logically connected to each other as apparitional guardians of the Cumaean gate to the underworld and also as they are both multi-bodied beings, and they fit very appropriately into the Pluto - Charon system as they were sentries to Pluto's realm and ones that a traveler would encounter before meeting Charon, as a spacecraft traveling to Pluto would pass the orbits of S/2005 P1 and S/2005 P2 before Charon. Also, the names sound really cool.

Two other Pluto connected names that haven't been used yet are Mors (the Roman personification of Death) and Somnus (the Roman personification of sleep) who were brothers and resided in the underworld, however, it would seem to me a bit of an unnecessarily morbid choice and not nearly as exciting as multi-headed, multi-armed giant-guards to the underworld.

Read more: naming things in space, Pluto, Pluto's small moons

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Emily Lakdawalla

Solar System Specialist for The Planetary Society
Read more articles by Emily Lakdawalla

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