Pluto May Soon Have a Moon Named Vulcan (Thanks to William Shatner)

by Jason Major on February 25, 2013

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These may soon be the names of Pluto's family of moons (Hubble image: NASA, ESA and M. Showalter/SETI)

These may soon be the names of Pluto’s family of moons (Hubble image: NASA, ESA and M. Showalter/SETI)

The votes have been tallied and the results are in from the SETI Institute’s Pluto Rocks Poll: “Vulcan” and “Cerberus” have come out on top for names for Pluto’s most recently-discovered moons, P4 and P5.

After 450,324 votes cast over the past two weeks, Vulcan is the clear winner with a landslide 174,062 votes… due in no small part to a little Twitter intervention by Mr. William Shatner, I’m sure.

In other words… yes, the Trekkies have won.

Screen Shot 2013-02-25 at 2.32.53 PMDuring a Google+ Hangout today, SETI Institute senior scientist Mark Showalter — who discovered the moons and opened up the poll — talked with SETI astronomer Franck Marchis and MSNBC’s Alan Boyle about the voting results. Showalter admitted that he wasn’t quite sure how well the whole internet poll thing would work out, but he’s pleased with the results.

“I had no idea what to expect,” said Showalter. “As we all know the internet can be an unruly place… but by and large this process has gone very smoothly. I feel the results are fair.”

As far as having a name from the Star Trek universe be used for an actual astronomical object?

“Vulcan works,” Showalter said. “He’s got a family tie to the whole story. Pluto and Zeus were brothers, and Vulcan is a son of Pluto.”

And what can you say when even Mr. Spock agrees?

Leonard Nimoy's tweet

The other winning name, Cerberus, is currently used for an asteroid. So because the IAU typically tries to avoid confusion with two objects sharing the same exact name, Showalter said he will use the Greek version of the spelling: Kerberos.

Cerberus (or Kerberos) is the name of the giant three-headed dog that guards the gates to the underworld in Greek mythology.

Now that the international public has spoken, the next step will be to submit these names to the International Astronomical Union for official approval, a process that could take 1–2 months.

(Although who knows… maybe Bill can help move that process along as well?)

Read more about the names on the Pluto Rocks ballot here, and watch the full recorded Google+ Hangout below:

About 

A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

gary cruse February 25, 2013 at 9:17 PM

On naming a frozen world “Vulcan”

.

Mercury isn’t liquid;
Neptune’s not so wet;
Uranus isn’t brown enough;
You take what you can get.

Mastercope February 26, 2013 at 2:13 AM

And Earth, mostly water, surface anyways.

Gusssss February 26, 2013 at 12:12 PM

Mars you can’t eat, and Saturn you can’t sit on.

gary cruse February 25, 2013 at 9:22 PM

On naming a frozen world “Vulcan”

.

Mercury isn’t liquid;
Neptune’s not so wet;
Uranus isn’t brown enough;
You take what you can get.

Candacey Doris February 27, 2013 at 12:04 AM

Nice

bugzzz February 25, 2013 at 9:54 PM

FINE BY ME. Vulcan that shiz up.

John Stock February 25, 2013 at 11:03 PM

No.. thanks to the voters and Star Trek..

Jason Major February 26, 2013 at 12:19 AM

True — but it was Bill that helped get the name Vulcan on the ballot to begin with. It wasn’t there before he suggested it and gave the campaign legs.

TerryG February 26, 2013 at 1:09 AM

Regarding Mr Nimoy’s tweet: Star Trek’s planet Vulcan didn’t have a moon, so naming a moon after Vulcan is more Non Sequitur than “logical choice”.

Gusssss February 26, 2013 at 12:10 PM

Giving inanimate objects ‘names’ is just illogical, period. Spock’s home planet should have had some systematic designation describing its location and orbit, rather than some meaningless random tag :)

And why stop there? I give you as evidence the following:

“Hey, er…” said Zaphod, “what’s your name?” The man looked at them doubtfully.
“I don’t know. Why, do you think I should have one? It seems very odd to give a bundle of vague sensory perceptions a name.”
—Douglas Adams, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Fit the 12th.

Yours sincerely

Human #2,497,826

Lorin Ionita February 26, 2013 at 12:59 PM

It’s not illogical. Although they have an astronomical designation, they are more relatable if they have a name, and are also easier to remember. Vulcan is easier to remember than a sequence of numbers. So it makes a lot of sense.

At least for the rest of us who aren’t that good with numbers.

Gusssss February 26, 2013 at 1:39 PM

I was speaking from the point of view of a typical Vulcan, the ultimate logicians. Mind you, Spock was half human, so I suppose he has an excuse for such pointless sentimentality :o)

TerryG February 26, 2013 at 6:20 PM

Douglas Adams might have seized on two other issues raised here: 1) Something “makes a lot of sense” when it is “relatable” or intuitive and 2) so many of the available candidate names are connected with various Gods. Adams understood logic’s power to provide rules of deduction that can take us beyond intuition. Consider the following…

“Now it is such a bizarrely improbably coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful [the Babel fish] could have evolved by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.
The argument goes something like this: “I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”
“But,” says Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED”
“Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
– Douglas Adams, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, p 50

TerryG February 26, 2013 at 6:44 PM

Good point, but the late Douglas Adams might have seized on two items raised here: 1) Something “makes a lot of sense” when it is “relatable” or intuitive and 2) so many of the available candidate names are connected with various Gods. Adams understood logic’s power to provide rules of deduction that can take us beyond intuition. Consider the following…

“Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful [the Babel fish] could have evolved by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.
The argument goes something like this: “I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”
“But,” says Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED”
“Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
– Douglas Adams, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, p 50

GregtheThird February 26, 2013 at 8:50 PM

Fascinating.

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