Name Pluto's Moons! Scientists Ask the Public for Help

First Posted: Feb 11, 2013 10:33 AM EST

Ever wanted to name a moon? Now is your chance. The discoverers of Pluto's fourth and fifth moons are letting the Internet decide what they should be named via an online vote.

This new naming poll is just one of the ways that the public is getting more involved with space missions. NASA has also asked for the public's advice when it comes to the organization's missions. It has asked for name suggestions for the asteroid due to be visited by the OSIRIS-REx probe as well as for one of the modules on the International Space Station.

The new endeavor by the SETI Institute, called the "Pluto Rocks" project, comes after the two moons were discovered by the detailed analysis of data collected from the Hubble Space Telescope. Currently, scientists refer to the tiny moons as P4 and P5, yet the discovery team has decided that they now need proper names.

Actually naming a moon is a rare privilege for anyone--especially an astronomer. Fewer than 200 moons have been discovered orbiting the planets in our solar system. Most of the names are based on ancient mythologies with the exception being Uranus; its moons are based on names from the works of William Shakespeare. Pluto's other three moons, for example, are named Nix, Charon and Hydra. All of them come from ancient Greek and Roman mythologies. Pluto itself is named after the Roman god of the underworld.

The newest moons were discovered in 2011 and 2012, and were found when astronomers were examining Pluto's surroundings to make sure the way was clear for NASA's New Horizons probe, which is set to zoom past the dwarf planet in 2015.

One of the leaders of the discovery teams, Mark Showalter, received hundreds of suggestions for the names. Now, Internet users can vote between 12 potential names, all of which feature Greek or Roman mythological figures with a connection to the underworld--Acheron, Alecto, Cerberus, Erebus, Eurydece, Heracles, Hypnos, Lethe, Obol, Orpheus, Persephone and Styx. Write-in votes are also allowed, though the discovery teams reserve the right to keep control of what names will be selected.

The voting deadline is currently set for Feb. 25. Afterward, the discovery teams will choose two names to submit and will announce which ones won out around April.

Want to cast your vote? Check out the poll here.

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