Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Vulcan Wins Pluto Moons Contest Thanks to Shatner & Nimoy

The contest result was most logical.

According to the Associated Press, the two-week contest to name two of Pluto's recently-discovered moons has ended with Vulcan as the victor.  The name, suggested by Star Trek actor William Shatner, received close to 200,000 votes thanks to online appeals to fans by Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, who played the half-Vulcan, half-human Spock.

"174,062 votes and Vulcan came out on top of the voting for the naming of Pluto's moons. Thank you to all who voted!" Shatner posted on Twitter once the final count was released.

In an email to the Associated Press, Nimoy commented "If my people were emotional, they would say they are pleased."

In Roman mythology, Vulcan is the god of fire and lava from volcanoes and the nephew of Pluto, lord of the underworld.  As for Star Trek mythology, the planet Vulcan is Spock's homeworld and was recently destroyed in the 2009 film Star Trek.

Coming in at second place with nearly 100,000 votes was Cerberus, name for the three-headed dog in Roman mythology that guarded the gates to the underworld.  Pluto's three bigger moons are named Charon, Nix and Hydra.

There is, however, a chance that neither Vulcan nor Cerberus could be officially designated as names for the new moons, currently known as P4 and P5.  The contest was conducted by SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., the research base for the primary moon hunter. Ten astronomers who made the discoveries will take the voting results into account, as they decide what will be the two best names.  The International Astronomical Union has the final say, and it could be another month or two before an official announcement.

Mark Showalter, the leader of the teams who discovered the mini-moons, said Monday he's leaning toward the popular vote.  Although, Showalter pointed out that asteroids thought to orbit close to the sun are called vulcanoids, and there could be confusion if a moon of Pluto was named Vulcan.  Vulcan, it turns out, was the name given in the 19th century to a possible planet believed to orbit even closer to the sun than Mercury, but no such planet was found.  In addition, Showalter said that Vulcan is associated with lava and volcanoes, while distant Pluto is anything but hot.

As for Cerberus, an asteroid already bears that name, so Showalter suggested the Greek version, Kerberos, would work instead.  Styx, the river to the underworld, came in at third place in the competition with almost 88,000 votes.

Shatner's second Star Trek choice for a name, the Romulan homeworld Romulus, failed to make the cut because an asteroid already has a moon by that name, along with a moon named Remus.

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