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Newest Moon of Pluto Likely to be Named “Vulcan”

First of all some house-keeping stuff regarding Pluto.

1)  It is still not a planet.  The few people who do astrophysics for a living still classify it as a “Dwarf Planet.”

2)  This designation is completely understandable when you actually think about the size of Pluto.  Its entire diameter could pretty much only cover about two-thirds of the size of our moon.

3)  Blame the Kuiper Belt.  It’s a bunch of massive disc of Pluto-sized masses on the edge of our solar system.  It being out there has made us reassess what’s “a planet” when you have a bunch of things floating out there the size of Pluto or bigger (see Eris), you have to wonder are they all planets, or just a second type of asteroid belt?

4)  Pluto already has a number of moons, three of which are named (Charon, Nix, Hydra) and two which are not.

It’s the naming of the last two which is now in the news and thanks to someone familiar with the term, “Vulcan” got a bit of a boost in the online voting.

After weeks of online ballot casting by people around the world, the poll asking the public to name two of Pluto’s moons — currently called P4 and P5 — ended Monday.

As of 12 p.m. (1700 GMT) Feb. 25, the polls closed with a total of 450,324 total votes cast since Feb. 11 with ‘Vulcan,’ a Pluto moon name proposed by Star Trek’s William Shatner, is the clear winner.

“174,062 votes and Vulcan came out on top of the voting for the naming of Pluto’s moons. Thank you to all who voted! MBB,” wrote Shatner via Twitter.

Cerberus came in a clear second with nearly 100,000 votes.

Vulcan was a late addition to the Pluto moon name contenders, and pulled into the lead after Shatner, building on his Capt. James T. Kirk persona, plugged the name on Twitter. Vulcan, the home planet of Kirk’s alien-human hybrid first officer Spock, is not just a fictional world in the Star Trek universe. It is also the name of the god of fire in Roman mythology, and officials at SETI added the sci-fi favorite to the ballot for that reason.

“Vulcan is the Roman god of lava and smoke, and the nephew of Pluto. (Any connection to the Star Trek TV series is purely coincidental, although we can be sure that Gene Roddenberry read the classics.),” wrote SETI scientist Mark Showalter in a blog officially adding the name to the list on Feb. 12. “Thanks to William Shatner for the suggestion!”

These votes don’t necessarily mean that P4 and P5 will end up being called Vulcan and Cerberus, however. SETI is going to recommend the winning names to the International Astronomical Union — the organization responsible for naming the moons. The IAU will take the results into consideration, but ultimately they have final say over what the tiny moons are called.

“Cerberus” was the Pluto’s three-headed hell hound in who guards the gates to the Underworld in Greek mythology.  He’s known as “Kerborus” by the Romans.

Also, this is not the first time that “Vulcan” has come up as the possible name for something in our solar system.  For years, ancient astronomers believed there was a small planetoid mass between the Sun and Mercury.   The thinking was they’d use “Vulcan” to symbolize the belief that such a mass would have to be hot, like a volcano.

Alas, it ended up being a stray asteroid or something and eventually disappeared; never to be seen or heard from again.

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