The International Astronomical Union (IAU) announced the names for two new moons of Pluto (everyone’s favorite dwarf planet). Like Pluto’s three other moons (Charon, Nix, and Hydra), the two new satellites are named for figures from Greek myth: Styx and Kerberos.
When Pluto’s fourth moon was discovered in 2011, we discussed what to name the new moon, and we’re happy to say a number of our readers suggested Styx and Kerberos as names for it.
But how did the IAU reach their conclusion? According to their press release, “These names were backed by voters in a recently held popular contest, aimed at allowing the public to suggest names for the two recently discovered moons of the most famous dwarf planet in the Solar System.”
In the midst of this public voting process, Star Trek fans lobbied to name the fourth moon after Vulcan, the home planet of the humanoid race of Vulcans on Star Trek. Due to Trekkie influence, the name Vulcan did win the most number of votes. However, according to the IAU, “a hypothetical planet between Mercury and the Sun” is already named Vulcan, and as to not confuse astronomers, another celestial object cannot have the same name.
But what do Styx and Kereberos mean? Styx refers to the river in the underworld across which Charon (another of Pluto’s moons) ferries dead souls. Kerberos (also commonly spelled Cerberus) is a three-headed dog that guarded the entrance to Hades. Apparently the IAU thinks of the far reaches of the Solar System as akin to Hades.
Do you think these were the best names for Pluto’s two new moons?