What's in a name? For Plutonian moon, explorers, scientists and fictional characters
One of the things about exploration is that when you discover things, sooner or later have to get around to naming them. Almost three years after NASA's New Horizons deep space probe made its historic flyby of Pluto, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has released the first list of official names for features on the face of the dwarf planet's largest moon, Charon. Approved by the IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature, it includes names proposed by the New Horizons team and pays tribute to explorers, futurists, and fictional characters.
Discovered in 1978 by the United States Naval Observatory, Charon is the largest of Pluto's five moons and is only half the size of Pluto and one-eighth of its mass, with a surface dominated by a mixture of water ice and frozen ammonia. On July 14, 2015, the unmanned New Horizons probe flew past it at a distance of 27,000 km (17,000 mi) while traveling at a velocity of 14 km/sec (31,000 mph) before heading into the Kuiper Belt as it shot towards interstellar space.
The new names were provided by the New Horizons team lead by Dr Alan Stern and included suggestions solicited from the general public through the Our Pluto campaign. They were approved by the IAU, which is an international body founded in 1919 and is generally recognized as the official arbiter of astronomical names. According to the IAU, the new names honor human exploration, travelers, explorers and scientists, pioneering journeys, and mysterious destinations taken from history, literature, and mythology.
The approved list is as follows:
Named after the ship Argo from Greek mythology that carried Jason and the Argonauts on their quest for the Golden Fleece.
This mountain is named after the science fiction writer Octavia E Butler, author of the Xenogenesis trilogy.
From Chilean lore, it is named after the mythical ghost ship that sails around the small island of Chiloé, off the coast of Chile, where it collects the dead to serve as crew.
Named for popular science and science fiction writer Sir Arthur C Clarke, author of 2001: a Space Odyssey and widely regarded as the father of the communications satellite.
For the fictional character Dorothy Gale form L Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz books for children.
Named in honor of film director Stanley Kubrick, who co-wrote the screenplay for the film 2001: a Space Odyssey with Sir Arthur and directed the film version.
A chasm named for the sunboat of the Egyptian god Ra.
Named for the Sufi philosopher and humorous storyteller of folktales popular in areas of Middle East, southern Europe and parts of Asia.
This crater honors Jules Verne's fictional Captain Nemo, the mercurial commander of the futuristic submarine Nautilus and protagonist of the scientific romances Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and The Mysterious Island.
Named after Stanislaw Lem's Pilot Pirx, who starred in a series of science fiction short stories beginning in 1966.
In Hindu literature, she was the daughter of King Kakudmi and consort of the god Balarama, whose life was recounted in Puranic texts that include the Mahabharata and Bhagavata Purana.
The main character in the medieval Russian epic Bylina, who was a sort of Slavic Sinbad with a magical musical instrument called a gusli.
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