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Moons of our Solar System
Moons of our Solar System

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3.8 What’s in a name?

The naming of S/2011 P1 and S/2012 P1 was open to an unofficial internet poll where the name ‘Vulcan’ won. However, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) could not accept this name. Vulcan is not connected with the underworld theme that has been adopted for Pluto, and had already been used to name the (hypothetical) vulcanoid asteroids. William Shatner, Star Trek’s ‘Captain Kirk’, had tried to get Romulus added to the poll, but the organisers themselves ruled that out, because Romulus is already used for one of the two moons of the asteroid 87 Sylvia.

In the end, S/2011 P1 was named Kerberos, a Greek spelling of Cerberus, the dog that guarded the mythological underworld. S/2012 P1 was named Styx, after the river that bordered the underworld. Cerberus and Styx in fact came second and third in the poll, so the public did have a say in the official names.

Described image
Figure 60 A screen grab of the BBC News website on 2 July 2013 in which Pluto’s moons make the news.

See also: BBC News - Pluto moons get mythical new names [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . The recently discovered fourth and fifth moons of Pluto now have official names: Kerberos and Styx.