You know how there are naming contests for various stuff – company naming, product naming, dog naming, even baby naming? Well, a few days ago, on February 25th, a new naming contest was won. However, it was not an ordinary competition as the naming concerned the two newest moons of Pluto – P4 and P5. The idea was published by SETI Institute – a non-profit organization whose mission revolves around exploring, understanding and explaining life in the universe. The acronym SETI stands for search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

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So, ideas about the naming of the two moons were gathered from the public which were later voted for. The only restrictions were that:

  1. By tradition, the moons of Pluto have names associated with Hades and the underworld.
  2. Like Pluto’s three other moons, Charon, Nix and Hydra, they need to be assigned names derived from Greek or Roman mythology.

The final list of 21 name proposals for the moons included: Acheron, Alecto, Cerberus, Erebus, Elysium, Eurydice, Hecate, Hercules, Hypnos, Lethe, Melinoe, Obol, Orpheus, Orthrus, Persephone, Sisyphus, Styx, Tantalus, Tartarus, Thanatos, and Vulcan (in alphabetical order).

The last one was may actually ring a bell to Star Trek fans as except for being the god of fire (including lava) in ancient Roman mythology, Vulcan is also a name of a fictional planet in the American sci-fi franchise. The name suggestion was actually put forward in Twitter by William Shatner – the actor who between the 1960’s and 1990’s portrayed one of the main characters in the Star Trek James T. Kirk, captain of the USS Enterprise. The power of the mass-media and the huge amount of Star Trek fans gave great results in the poll voting.

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Vulcan was chosen with 174,062 votes and second came Cerberus (the three-headed dog which guards the gates to the Underworld in Greek and Roman mythology) with 99432 votes. The two names will be assigned to the P4 and P5 moons of Pluto unless the International Astronomical Union decides differently as they have the final call. Still, if Vulcan and Cerberus are approved as the names of the newly discovered moons of Pluto, Star Trek fans all over the world will be thrilled. Not so fictional, eh? : )