Photo: NASA, ESA, and M. Showalter (SETI Institute)
This image, taken July 7, 2012 from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, shows five moons orbiting Pluto, including P4 and P5.
Call it the Power of Captain Kirk. Actor William Shatner, who played Kirk in the original Star Trek series, led an online campaign to give the name Vulcan to one of Pluto's moons. It appears to have paid off, as the name got 174,062 votes in an online contest.
The names under consideration, like that of Pluto itself, come from Greek or Roman mythology. Three of Pluto’s moons already have names associated with the underworld, including Charon, Nix and Hydra. Vulcan was the Roman god of lava and smoke. It was the also the equally mythological home of Mr. Spock on Star Trek. Cerberus, meanwhile, is the three-headed dog that guards the gates of the underworld.
In all, more than 450,000 online votes were cast over the past two weeks. But they're non-binding suggestions. The International Astronomical Union has the final say on names for Pluto's 4th and 5th moons. Right now, they sport the rather unimaginative names of P4 and P5. The moons were first discovered by the Hubble Telescope in 2012.
Pluto itself was first detected in 1930, at Flagstaff's Lowell Observatory. Lowell astronomer Larry Wasserman says astronomers are paying extra attention to the distant, icy body because of the impending arrival of the New Horizons Spacecraft, which will fly by Pluto in 2015.
Wasserman says the 2006 decision by the International Astronomical Union to downgrade Pluto from planetary status to that of "dwarf planet" probably won't change, even with the discovery of more satellites orbiting it.
Photo: Mark Duggan
The Pluto Discovery Telescope was built in 1928 to look for "Planet X," later known as Pluto.