NASA Wants You … to Help Name Stuff on Pluto
April 21, 2015: When NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flies by Pluto this July, the spacecraft's high-resolution cameras will spot many new landforms on the dwarf planet's unexplored surface. There could be mountains, craters, rilles, valleys and, of course, the unknown.
They are all going to need names—and NASA wants you to help.
The public has until Friday, April 24 to help name new features on Pluto and its moons. The naming campaign was announced in March, and now it is being extended because of widespread interest.
The campaign not only expresses public interest in Pluto but also helps the busy New Horizons science team.
“[The team] will not have time to come up with names during the flyby," explains Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. "So it helps to have a ready-made library of names in advance to officially submit to the IAU.”
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) in Paris is the formal authority for naming celestial bodies. Submissions must follow a set of accepted themes and guidelines set out by the IAU’s Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature.
According to the IAU, Pluto is a "dwarf planet"—that is, a planetary-mass object orbiting the Sun that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity but is not a planet or satellite. Unlike planets, these bodies have not cleared the neighborhood around their orbits, and their paths sometimes cross with other, often similar, objects. There are currently five identified dwarf planets in our Solar System, each named after a God from Greek, Polynesian, or Roman mythologies. These five bodies are Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris.
The names of features on the bodies in the Pluto system are related to mythology and the literature and history of exploration. Listed below are IAU-approved naming themes for Pluto and its largest moon Charon:
- Pluto: Names for the Underworld from the world's mythologies; gods, goddesses, and dwarfs associated with the Underworld; Heroes and other explorers of the Underworld; writers associated with Pluto and the Kuiper Belt; and scientists and engineers associated with Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.
- Charon: Destinations and milestones of fictional space and other exploration; fictional and mythological vessels of space and other exploration; fictional and mythological voyagers, travelers and explorers.
A complete explanation of naming conventions may be found on the IAU website.
After the naming campaign concludes, NASA’s New Horizons team will sort through the names and submit its recommendations to the IAU. The IAU will decide whether and how the names will be used.
Ready to pick names? Members of the public from around the world, of all ages and walks of life, are allowed to participate. Learn more at http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons.
The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) manages the New Horizons mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), is the principal investigator. SwRI leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. APL designed, built and operates the spacecraft for NASA.