William Shatner champions ‘Vulcan’ to top of polls in Pluto moon vote

The two newly discovered moons of Pluto now have names, and we have Star Trek's William Shatner to thank for one of them!

When astronomers at the SETI Institute decided that Pluto's new moons — formally named 'S/2011 (134340) 1' and 'S/2012 (134340) 1', or P4 and P5 for short — needed better names, Shatner stepped up to lead the charge to get 'Vulcan' voted in as the top spot, and the final results of the poll chose 'Vulcan' and 'Cerberus' as the names of the tiny moons.

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Although it certainly has a connection to the show that made him famous, Shatner's choice is a lot more savvy than people might think. Vulcan is not only the name of the world that Captain Kirk's first officer, Mr. Spock, comes from, but it is also the name of the Roman god of fire, who is the nephew of Pluto, Roman god of the Underworld. Originally, it was not a voting option, but the SETI astronomers saw the wisdom of Shatner's well-reasoned proposal, and it quickly became a front-runner in the polls.

The other top pick, Cerberus, is the name of the mythical three-headed dog that guards the gates of the Underworld, which is just a natural choice (and it's a little surprising that the name hadn't already been picked for one of the three other moons orbiting Pluto).

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Even though Pluto is only considered a 'dwarf planet' these days, astronomers had already found three moons orbiting it by 2006, when it was demoted from 'planet' status (Charon, Nix and Hydra). These two newly discovered ones, found by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2011 and 2012, bring the total to five.

Now that these new names have been chosen, they don't automatically get attached to P4 and P5. First, they need to be submitted to the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the body responsible for naming objects both inside and outside of our solar system, who will ultimately make the final decision on what to name these moons.

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