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What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Dammit Jim!

Despite Public Support, One of Pluto’s Moons Will Not Be Called Vulcan


The polls set up by the SETI Institute to name the two moons of Pluto have been closed, and, unfortunately, neither moon will be called Vulcan.  When the SETI institute wrapped up the polls back in February to name the two moons that had been discovered in 2011 and 2012, the name Vulcan had 175,000 votes, with Cerberus, or Kerberos, in second place with 99,432, and Styx in third.  Unfortunately, despite the fact that William Shatner convinced so many people to vote for the trekkie title for one of the moons, SETI overruled the poll.

Reasoning that the two runners up, Kerberos and Styx, were far more closely related to Pluto, mythologically, than Vulcan, the International Astronomical Union decided to skip Vulcan in favor of the two less popular names.  Technically, the Vulcan monicker fit within the requirements for the poll, that the names had to be mythological in origin, but the IAU ultimately overruled the votes.  This was on top of the disqualification of the other name Shatner had suggested, Romulus, before the polling began.

Kerberos, in greco-roman mythology, is the three headed dog that guards the underworld, while the river Styx is the river flowing through the underworld that one must cross to enter or exit.  Vulcan, meanwhile, is the Roman god of metalworking and volcanoes, the blacksmith to the gods, in greco-roman mythology.   It does make sense that fixtures of the threshold to the underworld would orbit Pluto, the god of the underworld, instead of one underworld-centric creature and a god.  Still, for fans of Star Trek, this news is a bit unfortunate.  After all, Vulcan did win the contest by quite a large number of votes, and the name was allowed into the running to begin with.

Vulcan has been used in astronomy before, so it is likely that the name could still be used to refer to a different planet or moon at another time.  The name was used in the 1700′s to refer to a planet that was theorized to be between Mercury and the sun.  Unfortunately, for now Star Trek fans must give up on Pluto’s moons, and make way for fans of mythology, who will no doubt be thrilled about the cohesive underworld theme Pluto and its moons now have.

(via Blastr, Geekosystem, image via Huffington Post)

Previously in Star Trek

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  • Patrick Denny

    But Vulcan already was a (theoretical) planet, before Einstein and physics knocked it out of the sky. Isaac Asimov wrote a fascinating essay about it.
    http://geobeck.tripod.com/frontier/planet.htm (only link I could find. set your ad-blocker to kill)

  • Anonymous

    I feel like Cerberus is still a win…just for Mass Effect fans instead.

  • Mina

    I don’t understand poll overrules. Why even have the poll in the first place then? If you don’t want something chosen, then don’t allow it into the poll to begin with. If you’re going to give people choices, you have to be willing to accept the risk that they’ll choose something you don’t want them to.

    Not that I’m especially attached to any of the suggested names. I just have a pet peeve about poll overrules.

  • Dessa Brewington

    What about Romulus? Is that name just one of the founders of Rome, or is there mythological origin too?

  • Anonymous

    I’m still ticked off that Planet X didn’t get named Xena and its moon Gabrielle. >:(

  • http://porlob.tumblr.com porlob

    SETI could not have “overruled” the poll, becuase SETI does not name astronomical objects; the Internation Astronomical Union does. SETI’s poll was more of a “just for fun” thing, and had very little — if ANYTHING — to do with the IAU’s decision-making process, as they’re completely separate organizations.
    #pedantry

  • http://porlob.tumblr.com porlob

    The poll was from SETI, which had nothing to do with the naming process. The poll was never tied to the IAU, which is the body that names astronomical objects.

  • Anonymous

    No, Pluto’s orbit is too cold! We should save the name VULCAN for the first habitable exoplanet.

  • Melynda

    The myth of Romulus and Remus who were raised by a she-wolf and went on to found Rome. I didn’t think it was anything but myth. Or at least a good mixture.

  • Melynda

    The IAU never adheres to polls. They have certain requirements for stars, planets, etc. If anything was going to be named Vulcan, it would be an actual planet, not a moon of a dwarf planet (sorry Pluto). Also Pluto and its moons always had the underworld theme going. I’m not surprised they went with Keroberus and Styx. I, personally, voted for Orpheus and Eurydice. Not that it mattered. lol

  • http://www.whiteravencreations.ca/ ElSharra

    At least they still managed to get a nod in there to her (albeit one you have to be a bit of a geek to get!) They named Eris’ moon Dysnomia… or Lawless…..ness. It’s a stretch, but I’ll take it!

  • http://www.whiteravencreations.ca/ ElSharra

    Romulus was a demigod (the son of Rhea Silvia and Mars) and was deified by the Roman peoples, so he should count!

  • Greycat

    I did too! It’s one of my favorite myths. Along with Eros and Psyche.

  • Mark Brown

    Vulcan should rightly be reserved for any planet found around 40 Eridani A.

    I’m perfectly fine with Kerberos, though now I wish that the other moon had been called Yueh. . .

  • Anonymous

    Here’s a fan of mythology who is absolutely thrilled that the moons gained reasonable names o/

  • Dessa Brewington

    Never know. Sometimes those old myths mix in a bit of truth.

  • Anonymous

    I really hope other cultures use their own original names for the planets instead of translating them. It seems incredibly Western-centric to name ALL the planets (PLANETS!) on myths that only a very small portion of the human race know and have cultural ties to.

  • Robert Vary

    She has an asteroid named after her, does that count?

  • Robert Vary

    It depends on what you consider to be a “significant” celestial object. The planets (and I’ll include Pluto here, even though it’s not considered a planet anymore) all have long had set names, with Pluto being the newest one named in the 1930s. Any satellites associated with those planets are given names associated with their planet’s mythological character, which I suppose makes sense. So, for instance, Jupiter’s moons are named after the god Jupiter’s lovers, favorites or (once they ran out of those) descendents. Since the planets all already had Greco-Roman names, the moons were locked into that as well.

    Going outside of those nine planets and their moons, though, we do get more variety. For instance, Sedna (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/90377_Sedna) made a splash when it was discovered in 2003 as a major trans-Neptunian object, and is named for an Inuit sea goddess. Kuiper Belt Objects are named after creation gods of various cultures, so for instance the KBO dwarf planets Haumea (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haumea_%28dwarf_planet%29), Makemake (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makemake_%28dwarf_planet%29), and Quaoar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/50000_Quaoar) are named after Hawaiian, Rapanui, and Tongva gods, respectively. Haumea and Quaoar both have satellites, named for children of those two gods.

    If we get to the minor planets, we get names from all over the place. The first few asteroids discovered back in the 1800s were named from Greco-Roman mythology (Ceres, Vesta, etc.) but now they’re named for mythological characters, literary characters, real people (living and dead), and generally whatever else tickles the discoverer’s fancy (and gets approved by the IAU). Comets, on the other hand, are always named after their discoverers.

    Then of course there are features ON some of these other objects, all of which have different rules. Features on Venus, for instance, are named for historical or mythological women, while craters on Mercury are named for deceased artists, musicians, authors, etc. considered to have made a significant contribution to their field, and depressions on Mercury are named for famous works of architecture.

    In short, the most well-known objects in the solar system are Greco-Roman, largely because the names and patterns were established long ago and are too ingrained to rename. Outside of those, there actually is a surprising variety.

  • 23Skiddsy

    You realize that in other cultures, names for planets from their languages will still be used in scientific discourse? Japanese still call Mars “Kasei”.

    Also, according to IAU naming conventions, the vast majority of stars have Arabic names as homage to how astronomy started in Arabic cultures. The vast majority of stars do NOT have proper names however, because they’re just identified by a sort of location code. So actually there are far more ARABIC names in astrology than Greco-Roman ones, at least by IAU conventions.

    The outer moons of saturn are even broken up into Inuit giants, Nordic giants, and Gallic giants. Haumea is a dwarf planet past Pluto and she and her moons are named after Hawaiian gods.

    And the IAU isn’t even recognized in the vast majority of Africa.

    Granted, my background is from biology, where taxonomy pretty much uses ancient greek and latin specifically because they’re dead languages and cultures (but many are just words or names from any language that are latinized). The point of ancient greek and latin names in biology is to know that those names will never change, nor is anyone in particular being “catered to”, because those cultures and languages are dead.

  • 23Skiddsy

    It’s already being used as a name for a hypothetical planet between Mercury and the Sun.

  • http://wrongsirwrong.blogspot.com/ Magic Xylophone

    Or just fans of greco-roman mythology.