Names for features on Pluto and its moons approved by IAU

Fourteen names for features on Pluto and its five moons submitted by NASA's New Horizons mission have been approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Sep 11, 2017
Fourteen names for features on Pluto and its five moons submitted by NASA's New Horizons mission have been approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature.

The IAU is charged with formally naming celestial objects and their features.

Pluto's iconic heart-shaped feature is now officially Tombaugh Regio, named after Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer who discovered the small planet back in 1930.

Three months before New Horizons' July 2015 Pluto flyby, members of the mission team, the IAU, and the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, organized an online naming project called "Our Pluto," in which members of the public were asked to submit names within specific themes for geological features the probe would discover.

These themes included milestone space missions; historic explorers, scientists and engineers associated with Pluto and the Kuiper Belt; underworld mythology; and even fictional people and places from well-known fantasy and science fiction literature, movies, and TV shows.

During the flyby, when the first actual close-up images of Pluto and its moons were captured and returned by the spacecraft, members of the mission team informally assigned names suggested through the project to mountain ranges, canyons, valleys, craters, plains, and other regions on the surfaces of Pluto, its large moon Charon, and its four small moons.

"We're very excited to approve names recognizing people of significance to Pluto and the pursuit of exploration as well as the mythology of the underworld. These images highlight the importance of pushing to the frontiers of discovery," said Rita Schulz, chair of the IAU Working Group on Planetary System Nomenclature.

"We appreciate the contribution of the general public in the form of their naming suggestions and the New Horizons team for proposing these names to us."

Mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern emphasized that the names honor individuals and space missions that paved the way for the exploration of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

Many additional names for features on these worlds are expected to be submitted by the mission and approved by the IAU in the near future.

The following names were approved:

Tombaugh Regiohonors Clyde Tombaugh (19061997), the U.S. astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930 from Lowell Observatory in Arizona.

Burney craterhonors Venetia Burney (1918-2009), who as an 11-year-old schoolgirl suggested the name "Pluto" for Clyde Tombaugh's newly discovered planet. Later in life she taught mathematics and economics.

Sputnik Planitiais a large plain named for Sputnik 1, the first space satellite, launched by the Soviet Union in 1957.

Tenzing MontesandHillary Montesare mountain ranges honoring Tenzing Norgay (19141986) and Sir Edmund Hillary (19192008), the Indian/Nepali Sherpa and New Zealand mountaineer were the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest and return safely.

Al-Idrisi Monteshonors Ash-Sharif al-Idrisi (11001165/66), a noted Arab mapmaker and geographer whose landmark work of medieval geography is sometimes translated as "The Pleasure of Him Who Longs to Cross the Horizons."

Djanggawul Fossaedefines a network of long, narrow depressions named for the Djanggawuls, three ancestral beings in indigenous Australian mythology who traveled between the island of the dead and Australia, creating the landscape and filling it with vegetation.

Sleipnir Fossais named for the powerful, eight-legged horse of Norse mythology that carried the god Odin into the underworld.

Virgil Fossaehonors Virgil, one of the greatest Roman poets and Dante's fictional guide through hell and purgatory in theDivine Comedy.

Adlivun Cavusis a deep depression named for Adlivun, the underworld in Inuit mythology.

Hayabusa Terrais a large land mass saluting the Japanese spacecraft and mission (2003-2010) that performed the first asteroid sample return.

Voyager Terrahonors the pair of NASA spacecraft, launched in 1977, that performed the first "grand tour" of all four giant planets. The Voyager spacecraft are now probing the boundary between the Sun and interstellar space.

Tartarus Dorsais a ridge named for Tartarus, the deepest, darkest pit of the underworld in Greek mythology.

Elliot craterrecognizes James Elliot (1943-2011), an MIT researcher who pioneered the use of stellar occultations to study the solar system leading to discoveries such as the rings of Uranus and the first detection of Pluto's thin atmosphere.



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