After failed attempts to christen one of Pluto’s newfound moons Vulcan, Star Trek fans may still be able to leave their mark on the planet. NASA researchers have stated that, once the New Horizons spacecraft captures the first close up images of Pluto in 2015, the dwarf planet’s craters, mountains and other features could be named after characters from the beloved sci-fi franchise.
Via a Google+ Hangout, Mark Showalter of the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute said: “We might have craters called Sulu and Spock and Kirk and McCoy and so on.”
Showalter led the team who discovered Pluto’s two smallest known moons, using the NASA Hubble Space Telescope. The moons, one thought to be 8 to 21 miles wide and the other measuring at 6 to 15 miles across, were announced in 2011 and 2012 and known by their pedestrian names of P4 and P5.
A sponsored online poll called Pluto Rocks was then held by the SETI Institute to decide a better moniker for the moons. The clear winner of the poll was Vulcan, which is the name of both a planet and the pointy-eared beings who evolved there in the Star Trek universe. Vulcan received 170,000 of the 500,000 votes cast, after original Capt. James T. Kirk actor William Shatner suggested it.
However, the name was axed by the International Astronomical Union, who are the organisation responsible for naming celestial objects. According to IAU rules, the moons were required to be named after characters in Greek and Roman mythology who are associated with the underworld.
SETI officials stated that, although Vulcan is the name of the ancient Roman god of fire and volcanoes, the name would be too tenuous a link. In addition, the name had already been used in astronomy previously.
The first and second runner ups in the poll were accepted by the IAU and P4 and P5 were officially renamed Kerberos, which is the three-headed guard dog at the gates of the Underworld, and Styx, the river that separates the living and dead worlds.
This isn’t the first time that Star Trek fans have influenced a NASA naming decision. According to an infographic on MoneyGaming “after a huge response from Star Trek fans, the first NASA space shuttle orbiter was named Enterprise.”