A modest Plutonian proposal

Themes proposed for names of soon-to-be-discovered craters and crevices on Pluto and its moons

WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD  Future interplanetary cruises over the surface of Pluto (illustrated, with its largest moon Charon above the horizon) might include announcements such as “To your left is Wepwawet crater; to your right the Julu valley.”

L. Calçada/ESO

Sad but true: The solar system lacks locales named after canine deities. Fortunately, the New Horizons mission to Pluto might remedy this tragedy. All those undiscovered terrains are going to need names, and researchers offer some recommendations in a paper published online March 29 at arXiv.org.

Aside from a theme of death — Pluto did rule the underworld after all, with Charon ferrying souls there — researchers suggested names from mythology, language and pop culture. Hills and valleys on Pluto’s surface might be labeled with the word cold in dead or dying languages. Characters from Star Trek could be memorialized in craters on the moon Charon. And those neglected dog gods would finally have a home on terrains of the moon Kerberos, itself named for the multiheaded guard dog of Hades.

Pluto experts aren’t the only ones with a say. Through April 24, NASA and the International Astronomical Union are also soliciting the public’s help in brainstorming names for features on Pluto and its moons.

Clearly planetary taxonomists soon will have plenty of work. After New Horizons flies past on July 14, a blemish on Kerberos could be named after the Scottish death-hound Cù-Sìth. Then again, Charon might end up with a crater named Scotty.

Christopher Crockett is an Associate News Editor. He was formerly the astronomy writer from 2014 to 2017, and he has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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