Pluto: Name that Planet

SCIENCE

Princess Leia! Octavia Butler! RIPLEY! The International Astronomical Union has approved themes submitted by NASA’s New Horizons team for naming surface features on Pluto and its moons. Gallifrey! Spock! Mordor! (NASA)

How did NASA set its horizons on our favorite dwarf planet?

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

This composite of enhanced color images of Pluto and its big moon Charon were taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015. Photograph by NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

This composite of enhanced color images of Pluto and its big moon Charon were taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015.
Photograph by NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Discussion Ideas
Note to teachers: You’ll definitely want your science fiction fans to be a part of this discussion!

 

Pluto, Annotated

These maps of Pluto and Charon indicate initial, informal names used by the New Horizons team. And THEY ARE AWESOME. Map by NASA, SETI Institute

CLICK TO ENLARGE! These maps of Pluto and Charon indicate initial, informal names used by the New Horizons team. 
Map by NASA, SETI Institute

 

  • What are some examples of names appropriate for the geographic naming guidelines for Pluto? Take a look at this spreadsheet of the informal naming criteria for some help. (And get some reading ideas!)
    • Gods, goddesses, and other beings associated with the Underworld from mythology, folklore, and literature.
    • Names for the Underworld and for Underworld locales from mythology, folklore, and literature.
      • An informal name that meets these criteria is the Pandemonium Dorsa, named after the capital of Hell in John Milton’s Paradise Lost.
      • Dorsa are geologic ridges.
      • Other examples might include Annwn, from Welsh mythology, or Yomi, from Japanese (Shinto) mythology.
    • Heroes and other explorers of the Underworld.
      • An informal name that meets these criteria is the Beatrice Fossa, named after Dante’s deceased girlfriend and tour guide in The Divine Comedy.
      • Fossae are a long, shallow depressions.
      • Another example might be Tiresias, a guiding figure in the Underworld of Homer’s Odyssey.
    • Scientists and engineers associated with Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.
      • An informal name that meets these criteria currently takes up the biggest space on the planet: the Tombaugh Regio. Clyde Tombaugh is the astronomer who discovered “Planet X”—Pluto—in 1930.
        • Our guess is that Tombaugh’s name will ultimately be attached to something on the dwarf planet he discovered when the formal names are revealed.
    • Pioneering space missions and spacecraft.
    • Historic pioneers who crossed new horizons in the exploration of the Earth, sea and sky.
      • An informal name that meets these criteria is the Cousteau Rupes, named after Jacques-Yves Cousteau, a legendary oceanographer and explorer.
      • Rupes are steep cliffs.
      • Another example might be Zheng He, a Chinese merchant explorer who led 15th-century expeditions throughout the Indian Ocean.

 

  • What are some examples of names appropriate for the geographic naming guidelines for Charon?
    • Destinations and milestones of fictional space and other exploration.
      • An informal name that meets these criteria is the Vulcan Planum, named after the home planet of Spock, from the TV series Star Trek.
      • Plana are plateaus or high ridges.
      • Another example might be Pandora, the planet explored in the movie Avatar.
    • Fictional and mythological vessels of space and other exploration.
      • An informal name that meets these criteria is the Tardis Chasma, named after the police-box time machine in the TV series Doctor Who.
      • A chasma is simply a chasm, or deep and long depression.
      • Another example might be Nostromo, the spaceship from the film Alien.
    • Fictional and mythological voyagers, travellers and explorers.
      • An informal name that meets these criteria is the Leia Organa Crater, named after a heroine of the Star Wars trilogy.
      • Craters are bowl-shaped depressions created by the impact of a meteorite, volcanic activity, or an explosion.
      • Another example might be Dave Lister, a hero of the TV sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf.
    • Authors and artists associated with space exploration, especially Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.
      • An informal name that meets these criteria is Butler Mons, named after the brilliant sci-fi author Octavia Butler.
      • A mons is a singular mountain.
      • Another example might be Osamu Tezuka, the “godfather of manga” who was a tremendous influence on Japanese science fiction.

 

 

 

 

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

NASA: New Horizons, IAU Set Pluto Naming Themes

Nat Geo: Pluto on the Horizon study guide

Jet Propulsion Laboratory: Informal Names for Features on Pluto or Our Pluto

International Astronomical Union: Descriptor Terms (Feature Types)

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