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  (Source: CBS)
Two newly discovered moons will instead be named Styx and Kerberos

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

The SETI (Search of Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute may wish to invoke that famous Spockism in its defense, as it faces the wrath of Khan... err Trekkies (the nickname for fans of the Star Trek movie, television, book, and comic franchise).

I. SETI Denies Fan Voting to Name New Pluto Moon "Vulcan"

After J.J. Abrams controversially rewrote the Star Trek universe, launching an alternate timeline in which Spock's homeworld "Vulcan" was blown up, William Shatner led a campaign to rename one of the two moons of Pluto "Vulcan".  The SETI Project, which discovered the new moons, had offered an online contest to decide the name of the new moons.

Also endorsed by the actor who played Spock, Leonard Nimoy, the campaign to name one of the moons "Vulcan" after the Roman god of fire and smithery (Greek: Hephaestus), managed to drive the name up to the top of the voting.

But ultimately The SETI Institute refused to name the moon Vulcan.  It pointed out that Vulcan had little to do with the God of the underworld (Greek: Hades; Roman: Pluto) unlike the names it selected.  

Pluto
The name "Vulcan" was rejected for more underworldly names. [Image Source: SETI]

And it points out that Vulcan was already used as the name for a hypothetical planet that was once thought to exist between the Sun and Mercury, so the name might be confusing.  There's an ongoing scientific debate over whether so-called intra-Mercurial planetoids or "vulcanoids" -- including Vulcan -- exist.

The SETI Institute tells Trekkies:

The (International Astronomical Union) gave serious consideration to this name, which happens to be shared by the Roman god of volcanoes.  However, because that name has already been used in astronomy, and because the Roman god is not closely associated with Pluto, this proposal was rejected.

The names of the new moons leave 4 out of the 5 known moons of Pluto with underworld-related names.  One of the new moons is named "Styx" after the river to the underworld.  Another is named "Kerberos" (Greek: Cerberus) after the multi-headed dog that inhabited the underworld.  Two other moons are named after Nix (the anglization of "Nyx"), the godess of the night (who resided in the underworld), and her child Charon (Roman: Chairon) whom she bore from her brother/lover Erebus, the god of darkness.   Charon served as boatman to the underworld, ferrying the souls of the dead to Pluto.

Vulcan destroy
Vulcan was destroyed in the new Star Trek reboot. [Image Source: Bad Robot] 

The seemingly odd moon out is Hydra, which was named after the serpent like monster which was slain by Hercules (Heracles).  The Hydra, a child of a Gorgon (snake-woman) inhabited a cave and had relatively little to do with underworld.

Nix and Hydra were named back in 2006 after their discovery by the Hubble space telescope.

II. Will Shatner is Mad; Styx is Thrilled

William Shatner echoed the sentiments of many Trekkies, voicing frustration and the naming rejection.  He posts on Twitter:

Other fans voiced similar sentiments:

However, some praised SETI for maintaining the historical context of Vulcan and the underworldly naming of Pluto.  The quote from Mr. Shatner refers to a comment by Mark Showalter of SETI, who said in a comment to the Associated Press, "We might have craters called Sulu and Spock and Kirk and McCoy and so on."

Will Shatner
Will Shatner is mad about the rejection.

The International Astronomy Union's (IAU; the organization that governs space naming) rules are relatively rigid regarding the naming of planets, planetoids, moons, and mountains on planets.  However, they are relatively lax to naming craters -- one crater on Pluto has already been named "Mickey" after the famous character from The Disney Comp. (DIS).

The controversy over the moon naming is the latest for Pluto, which recently lost its planet status (though some states are fighting to restore that distinction).  Pluto is now referred to as a "planetoid" or "plutoid", depending on who you ask.  The ninth (or tenth?) planet -- the recently discovered "Xena" -- is larger than Pluto.

Styx
Styx is thrilled though. [Image Source: Jay West]

One group who is pleased with the new names is the 80s "hair rock" band Styx.  Tommy Shaw, guitarist and songwriter for the band, enthused about this profit-making opportunity to UltimateClassicRock, remarking, "Styx is proud to accept this new heavenly chart position as we add orbiting Pluto to our ever expanding touring map.  As always we have our fans to thank for it and I predict a new Styx T-shirt in the making!"

Sources: SETI, NASA, William Shatner on Twitter, UltimateClassicRock



Comments     Threshold


This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

RE: Why are you blaming SETI???
By drlumen on 7/4/2013 3:33:09 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not sure but I think the discovery can name the object they found but the IAU has to approve it to resolve possible conflicts.


RE: Why are you blaming SETI???
By plutosavior on 7/4/2013 6:59:55 PM , Rating: 3
The IAU doesn't have to approve something for it to be accepted. How about we all ignore the IAU?


RE: Why are you blaming SETI???
By Solandri on 7/4/2013 7:13:21 PM , Rating: 4
Well yeah, you can ignore the IAU. But if you do, pretty much every professional astronomer and most amateurs will ignore you. That's what those "name a star" companies do - they give stars names without IAU approval. So everyone ignores them. You're basically paying them to print the name you want in a book they publish.

Although the IAU has the final say on names, the discoverer gets to suggest a name. So if SETI discovered the moons, then they'd have the privilege of suggesting a name. They decided to hold a contest to pick a name.

The IAU is pretty flexible about things like asteroids (ASCII, Monty Python, two close-flying asteroids named Tomhanks and Megryan). But planet and moon names generally have to follow a theme based on roman names for greek mythology (except Uranus, whose moons are named after literary characters - mostly from Shakespeare). Pluto being god of the underworld, the moon names would be expected to be related.

"Vulcan" most likely wouldn't have been approved for this reason. SETI realized that and so didn't even bother submitting it. OTOH, find a moon around Venus and Vulcan is virtually guaranteed to win (Vulcan was Venus' husband).


RE: Why are you blaming SETI???
By plutosavior on 7/4/2013 11:33:37 PM , Rating: 2
No, every professional and amateur astronomer will not ignore you if you ignore the IAU. Their controversial 2006 demotion of Pluto is still rejected by many professional astronomers, including the Principal Investigator of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto, Dr. Alan Stern. Many of the hundreds of professional astronomers who signed Stern's petition have distanced themselves from the IAU and ignore the organization. There are other astronomy groups such as the American Astronomical Society, the European Geophysical Union, the American Geophysical Union, etc. The IAU has lost a lot of credibility over the last few years in the way it has handled the Pluto debacle, including its refusal to reopen the discussion after being asked to do so in 2009 by a group of professional astronomers. These astronomers may yet form a new planetary science organization. Look to new, crowdfunding groups such as Uwingu, which is creating a "baby book" of names for exoplanets. Times are changing, and the IAU is no longer the only game in town astronomically.


RE: Why are you blaming SETI???
By Stuka on 7/7/2013 12:17:09 PM , Rating: 4
I remember when scientists used science and not emotion when making determinations. No one cares that a few hold outs grew up watching Pluto cartoons and are comfortable with a 9 planet solar system because they were indoctrinated with it at 6 years of age.

Science is about facts. If you want to be romantic about something read a Danielle Steel book.


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