The coolest part of exploration isn’t discovering a new land or some mountain that humanity has yet to conquer. It’s getting to name it. You can literally name it whatever you want and there’s no bureaucratic “Office of Naming Things” to stand in your way.
So imagine if NASA showed up at your doorstep, flashed a picture of a huge mountain from the surface of Pluto in your face and asked you to come up with a name for it. What would you call it? NASA did just that with the Internet.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will do a flyby of the demoted planet, its largest moon Charon and its four smaller moons Styx, Nix, Hydra and Kereberos on July 14th, according to a statement from NASA. That means there are some prime opportunities to name all the craters, mountains and other notable formations on these distant, floating bodies. So back in March, NASA decided to give all of humanity the chance to come up with some names for those geologic features at OurPluto.org. The New Horizons team submitted the final list of names to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) on Tuesday and released the full list on their website.
The list of names reads like a Who’s Who of Who’s Awesome in the science fiction and fantasy world. It includes names of fictional characters, worlds and ships from “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” and J.R.R. Tolkein’s “The Lords of the Rings” as well as the names of influential authors, artists and film directors such as Douglas Adams, Arthur C. Clarke, Stanley Kubrick and Lewis Carroll.
Pluto gets first dibs on the prime names (because it’s Pluto and could probably beat up the five moons) like famous NASA spacecraft, historic explorers, and mythological underworld figures but it also includes some names that you’re likely to hear at comic conventions, according to the proposal.
Cthulhu, the octopus/man/dragon cultist deity created by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, earned the most votes in the “Underworld Beings” category with a whopping 36 percent. The evil Balrog from Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy came in a close second with 34 percent of the vote.
The moon Charon got most of the pop culture names (because technically, it’s Pluto’s sidekick and could beat up the four smaller moons as long as Pluto has its back). “Star Trek’s” Kirk and Spock actually tied for the top spot in the “Fictional Explorers and Travelers” category with 37 percent. Other names that made the top 10 include Uhura, Sulu, Skywalker, Leia, Solo, Vader, Nemo and Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz.” That’s right, Trekkies. Savor this victory like a fine wine and hold it over the sullen heads of “Star Wars” fans for as long as you can.
Spock’s home planet Vulcan finished first in the “Fictional Origins and Destinations” category with 32 percent of the vote. Shire and Mordor, two notable locales from Tolkein’s stories, finished in second and third place respectively. Tatoonie and Hoth, the famed planets from “Star Wars,” finished fourth and fifth. Wow, “Star Wars” fans probably haven’t felt this bad since they first heard the name Jar Jar.
“Firefly,” “Doctor Who” and “Alien” fans will be pleased to learn that their favorite franchises also picked up some nods in the “Fictional Vessels” category for sites on Charon such as the first place finisher Serenity, followed by Tardis and Nostromo, the ship from the first “Alien” movie.
I’m kind of hoping that NASA doesn’t discover any more planets at this point because we’re going to run out of decent names somewhere down the line. I dread the day when NASA announces the discovery of a new planet named Hubbard and its largest structure Mt. Michael Bay.