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.