In July 2015, we will finally have our long-awaited closeup views of the dwarf planet Pluto and its moons when NASA’s New Horizons probe flies past the tiny and distant worlds. Assuming all goes well, suddenly we will have revealed to us about 25 million square kilometres of alien landscapes never before seen by human eyes. There will be plains and impact craters, perhaps mountains and canyons, perhaps even geysers or ice volcanos. Apart from studying these new lands, we have a new task; naming what we have found. That is where you can help!

Artist’s concept of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it passes Pluto and Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, in July 2015. (Image credit: NASA/JHU APL/SwRI/Steve Gribben)

An artist’s impression of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it passes Pluto and Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, in July 2015. (Image credit: NASA/JHU APL/SwRI/Steve Gribben)


The New Horizons science team  is inviting everyone worldwide to vote for the names that will be given to the most prominent features on Pluto and Charon, Pluto’s largest moon. The pre-listed names are  an eclectic mix from mythology and the literature and history of exploration. You can even nominate names to be added to the list. You can view the lists and vote for your favorites at the Our Pluto website. Voting closes on 7 April 2015 and the most popular names will be passed to the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The IAU will have the final say on how the names are used.

The names suggested so far are an incredibly diverse list with a genuine attempt celebrate the achievements and cultures world wide. Here is a sample from the list of explorers:

image of explorer names

The fictional explorer lists reflects geek culture as this sample shows (with some oddities, I love CS Forrester’s Hornblower novels but it is hard to see this Napoleonic naval hero as an explorer and poor Uhura‘s name is misspelt) :

image of fictional explorer names

There are more pop-culture references in the “underworld” list. Apart from the obvious Lovecraftian references, it really gratifies me to see some love for Babylon 5!

list of underworld names

This is a fun way to help make a permanent mark in the Solar System. If you take part let us know in the comments section what names you voted for!

(Article by Colin Johnston, Science Education Director)


1 Comment

admin · March 25, 2015 at 11:37

Here are my personal selections:

Iram of the Pillars
Yuggoth (H. P. Lovecraft’s name for Pluto)
Flying Dutchman
Hieronymus Bosch
Peaks of Thok/Vaults of Zin/…
Orfeo & Euridice
Virgil & Beatrice
Icehenge (celebrates Kim Stanley Robinson’s classic Pluto novel)
Z’ha’dum (it’s from Babylon 5!)
Mon Repos (some Terry Pratchett seems appropriate)

NB after reviewing this list, I’ve realised that its a very “European” selection, I’m going back to vote for more from a wider geographical and cultural range.

I’ve tried to keep to a Gothic/Hadean/gloomy theme as this seems appropriate for Pluto (but there are some outliers). There are some excellent possible names on the lists but many of them would be better for sunnier, brighter worlds.

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