You may recall last week, when we told you that the SETI Institute was inviting the public to help name P4 and P5, Pluto’s so-far-untitled moons. The existing, already-named moons are called Nix, Charon, and Hydra. They all fit within the International Astronomical Union’s naming convention for the dwarf planet’s satellites: namely, that “Those that share Pluto’s orbital rhythm take the name of underworld deities.” The proposed new names all fit within that pattern, but SETI also invited voters to write in their own suggestions. And then William Shatner happened.
The man best known for exploring the galaxy as James T. Kirk appealed to his fans and asked them to write in “Vulcan” for one of the moons’ proposed names. Unsurprisingly, his people responded, and Vulcan is now leading the vote, with Cerberus and Styx vying for second place. Once voting is complete on February 25th, researcher Mark Showalter, who helped discover the unnamed moons in 2011 and 2012, will take the winners to the IAU for the stamp of approval. The question, however, is whether the IAU will accept Vulcan as a legitimate contender.
Vulcan is the Roman god of fire, and known as the blacksmith of the gods, so he doesn’t really fit within the category of “underworld deities.” Shatner argues that he was the nephew of Pluto, so that familial tie should make Vulcan a contender. Showalter also tossed out Shatner’s other suggested name, Romulus, because there already are a Romulus and Remus out there: a pair of moons orbiting asteroid 87 Silva.
The IAU are also the fuddy-duddies responsible for demoting Pluto from planet to “dwarf planet” back in 2006, a decision that sent poor Pluto into a shame spiral of depression and decadence that only stopped when Saturn and Jupiter staged an intervention. It’s anybody’s guess whether the IAU will approve Vulcan even if it continues to win the vote by a wide margin. Even if it would be the logical decision.
You can cast your vote right here.