The many worlds of Pluto! (Credit: NASA/HST/SETI Institute).
By now, you’ve heard the news and read the tweets; Pluto has a fourth moon to accompany Charon, Nix, & Hydra. The discovery announcement came last week from a team of astronomers led by the SETI Institutes’ Mark Showalter utilizing the Hubble Space Telescope. The observation campaign is part of an ongoing effort to survey the environs of Pluto in anticipation of NASA’s New Horizons flyby in July of 2015. Tentatively dubbed P4, the diminutive moon is in a 32 day orbit and about 8 to 21 miles in diameter, a good fit for our local Tampa Bay…
Of course, the big question currently swirling around the astro-web is what astronomers will name it. There’s been chatter on such sites as Space.com, Bad Astronomy, and Lights in the Dark, but the ultimate decision will rest with the International Astronomical Union. Their rules for solar system nomenclature are pretty discriminating; it’s doubtful they’ll that any appeals for “Goofy,” “Vulcan,” or “Krypton” will be entertained, no matter how cool someone thinks it might be. To be considered, a name must be mythological and have some relevance to the Pluto/Hades mythos. Not that that doesn’t leave room for a mild tribute of some sort; for example, the names “Nix” and “Hydra” are a nod towards the initials of the New Horizons mission bound for Pluto, and the large moon Charon was named in 1978 by astronomer James Christy in tribute to his wife Charlene… as you can see, there is some latitude for a homage to be made, if its packaged right. Of course, nothing brings out the esoteric mythological names like a new solar system object. The name we here at Astroguyz would like to propose has a good mythological pedigree as well as relevance towards honoring an astronomical pioneer. I propose we name P4 S/2011 P1 Alecto, after one of the Furies in the Roman/Greek pantheon of minor deities. The daughter of Pluto, Alecto pops up in Virgil’s Aeneid, Book VII Chapter 15, which states;
“Alecto, woeful (in) power, from her cloudy throne among the Furies, where her heart is fed with horrid wars, wrath , vengeance, treason foul and fatal feuds…Her father Pluto loathes the creature he engendered, and with hate her hell-born sister-fiends the monster view…”
Wow, apparently having your kid become a Fury is a sure sign of a problem child in the making… but beyond having the right mythological connections, the name Alecto scores on two more fronts; 1. It’s available. Yes, there is an asteroid 465 Alekto with the old Greek spelling, but the Roman Alecto spelling has not been used to name a solar system body yet… and 2. The “CT” initials embedded within would be a fine tribute to Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto in 1930 and a great telescope maker and popularizer of science… Mr. Tombaugh passed in 1997 and the name Alecto would serve as a fine homage to a great American astronomer as a way to say “C.T. was here!”
Note: YOU can cast your very own vote for the naming of P4 (or write in one of your very own!) by clicking here!