Mountain View, California, SETI Institute (Feb. 11, 2013) - The discoverers of Pluto's two tiniest moons are inviting the public to help select names for them.
Until now, these small moons have been referred to as, simply, "P4" and "P5." Like Pluto's three other moons, Charon, Nix and Hydra, they need to be assigned names derived from Greek or Roman mythology of the Hades dominion, evil-like.
"The Greeks were great storytellers and they have given us a colorful cast of characters to work with," said Mark Showalter, Senior Research Scientist at the Carl Sagan Center of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. He and the teams of astronomers who made the discoveries will select two names based on the outcome of the voting.
Visitors to the web site http://plutorocks.seti.org are able to submit write-in suggestions. These will be reviewed by the team and could be added to the ballot. Voting will end Feb. 25, 2013. The final names will be announced with formal approval by the International Astronomical Union “after several months,” says Showalter, and featured on the ScienceNews Radio Network program the Promise of Tomorrow with Colonel Mason at that time. The broadcast originates in Dallas, Texas, and is then archived and Webcast for its world audience.
Mason asked Showalter if Pluto really could not have moons, but "is more considered an asteroid with debris circling it" now that is has been downgraded from a planet. “What are they, the size of basketballs?” asked Mason. Showalter replied that Pluto is not considered an asteroid, but a dwarf planet, and the moons are 20 to 30 km (15 to 20 miles) across. One moon was discovered in 2011 in images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, the other a year later during a more intensive search for previously unseen objects orbiting the distant, dwarf planet. Currently, Pluto is receiving special scrutiny by astronomers, because NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is slated to arrive there in July 2015.
The mission of the SETI Institute is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe, and believe they are conducting the most profound search in human history – to know our beginnings and our place among the stars.
The SETI Institute (founded in 1984) is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific research, education and public outreach. The Institute comprises three centers, the Center for SETI Research, the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe and the Center for Education and Public Outreach. Today the Institute employs over 150 scientists, educators and support staff. For more information, see www.seti.org.