Celebrity names now mark places on Pluto’s moon Charon

Somewhere on the distant moon is a mountain with Stanley Kubrick’s name on it


MOONSTRUCK  Details of Charon, the largest of Pluto’s five moons, were finally seen clearly in 2015 when the New Horizons mission passed within 13,000 kilometers of Pluto’s surface.


Pluto’s largest moon, long seen as a mysterious smudge at the outer reaches of our solar system, was revealed in 2015 closeup images to be pocked with craters, mountains and steep-sided depressions called chasmas. Now, 12 of those topographical features have names.

Charon’s six most prominent craters were named for fictional explorers, including Dorothy who visited the fantastical land of Oz, time traveler Revati from the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata, and Nemo for the captain of the ship Nautilus in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Three chasmas received nautically themed names — Argo for the Greek ship sailed by Jason to retrieve the Golden Fleece, Caleuche for the mythological ghost ship said to travel off the Chilean coast, and Manjet for one of Egyptian sun god Ra’s vessels. The names for Charon’s mountains honor three real-life luminaries: film director Stanley Kubrick and science fiction writers Octavia E. Butler and Sir Arthur C. Clarke.

The new names, announced by International Astronomical Union April 11, have an appeal that “engages [the public] in science,” says planetary scientist Rita Schulz, who heads the union’s naming group. And that, she adds, “is quite good.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated April 23, 2018, to correct information relating to nicknames for Charon’s features. While astronomers often initially use general names, such as “brown mountain,” to refer to such features, many of Charon’s went by the now-official names.

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