Astronomers Ask Public to Help Name Pluto's New Moons

Mountain View, Calif. (SETI Institute) - The discoverers of Pluto's two tiniest moons are inviting the public to help select names for the new moons. 

By tradition, the moons of Pluto have names associated with Hades and the underworld. Beginning today, people can vote by visiting: 

http://plutorocks.seti.org

"The Greeks were great storytellers and they have given us a colorful cast of characters to work with," said Mark Showalter, Senior Research Scientist at the Carl Sagan Center of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. He and the teams of astronomers who made the discoveries will select two names based on the outcome of the voting.

Until now, these small moons have been referred to as, simply, "P4" and "P5". Like Pluto's three other moons, Charon, Nix and Hydra, they need to be assigned names derived from Greek or Roman mythology.

Visitors to the web site will also be able to submit write-in suggestions. These will be reviewed by the team and could be added to the ballot. Voting will end Feb. 25, 2013. The final names will be announced after their formal approval by the International Astronomical Union.

P4 was discovered in 2011 in images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. P5 was discovered a year later during a more intensive search for previously unseen objects orbiting the distant, dwarf planet. The moons are only 20 to 30 km (15 to 20 miles) across. Currently, Pluto is receiving special scrutiny by astronomers, because NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is slated to arrive there in July 2015.

A Google+ Hangout (https://plus.google.com/events/cv0bfakvue226s93r6hfb4v7m4c) is scheduled on February 11 at 11 am PT with two of the scientists involved in the discovery. Mark Showalter is from the SETI Institute, and Hal Weaver is a researcher at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. Questions from the viewers will be taken during the event using Twitter (hashtag #PlutoRocks), the SETI Institute Facebook page and the Google hangout.  


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The SETI Institute is a multi-disciplinary, highly collaborative, research organization designed to explore, understand, and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe utilizing expertise in fields ranging from astrophysics and planetary science to biology and social science, as well as computer science and signal detection.  We have a passion not only for discovery, but also for sharing knowledge as scientific ambassadors to the public, the press, and the government.  The SETI Institute is a distinguished partner for government agencies, academic institutions, and corporations around the world.