CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. (AP) - “Star Trek” fans, rejoice.
Vulcan snared nearly 200,000 votes among the more than 450,000 cast during the two-week contest, which ended Monday. In second place with nearly 100,000 votes was Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guarded the gates of the underworld.
Actor Leonard Nimoy, who portrayed the reason- and logic-based Spock, had this to say in an email to The Associated Press: “If my people were emotional they would say they are pleased.”
Don’t assume Vulcan and Cerberus are shoo-ins, though, for the two tiny moons discovered over the past two years with the Hubble Space Telescope.
The contest was conducted by SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., the research base for the primary moon hunter. The 10 astronomers who made the discoveries will take the voting results into account, as they come up with what they consider to be the two best names.
The International Astronomical Union has the final say, and it could be another month or two before an edict is forthcoming. Now known as P4 and P5, the moons are 15 to 20 miles across.
The leader of the teams that discovered the mini-moons, Mark Showalter said Monday he is leaning toward the popular vote.
But Showalter pointed out that asteroids thought to orbit close to the sun are called vulcanoids, and there could be some confusion if a moon of Pluto were to be named Vulcan. Vulcan, in fact, was the name given in the 19th century to a possible planet believed to orbit even closer to the sun than Mercury; no such planet ever was found.
As for Cerberus, an asteroid already bears that name, so maybe the Greek version, Kerberos, would suffice, said Showalter, a senior research scientist at SETI’s Carl Sagan Center.
Styx landed in No. 3 position with nearly 88,000 votes. That’s the river to the underworld.
Pluto’s three bigger moons are Charon, Nix and Hydra.
To be considered, the potential names for the two mini-moons also had to come from Greek or Roman mythology, and deal with the underworld. Twenty-one choices were available at the website http://www.plutorocks.com when voting ended Monday. Of those, nine were write-in candidates suggested by the public, including Shatner’s entry for Vulcan.
Shatner’s second choice for a name, Romulus, did not make the cut. That’s because an asteroid already has a moon by that name _ along with a moon named Remus.
And forget the Disney connection.
“We love Mickey, Minnie and Goofy, too,” Showalter informed voters a few days into the voting. “However, these are not valid names for astronomical objects. Sorry.”
Altogether, 30,000 write-in candidate names poured in.
Showalter said he will keep the list handy as more moons undoubtedly pop up around Pluto once NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft arrives in 2015. It will be the first robotic flyby ever of the planetoid, or dwarf planet near the outer fringes of the solar system.
Pluto-naming contest: http://www.plutorocks.com/
Johns Hopkins University: http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/index.php
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