WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

What would you name a new moon?

Posted August 15, 2013

The newly discovered moon orbits Neptune every 23 days inside the orbit of Proteus (Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI)

Last month, Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. announced discovery of a small moon orbiting Neptune. The 12-mile wide moon was found while reviewing Hubble Space Telescope images from 2004.

The moon, provisionally named S/2004 N 1, is about 100 times dimmer than the faintest star visible with the naked eye. You won't see S/2004 N1 from the end of your driveway, but you can help name it.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is the arbiter of naming all things celestial. Few outside of professional astronomers had even heard of the IAU until the group made headlines in 2006. On the final day of the IAU General Assembly conference that year, resolution B5 passed establishing a formal definition for the word "planet," and Pluto was out. New Horizons mission What happened to Pluto

The IAU, aware of its villainous image with some, has recently tried to be more inviting of input from outside its ranks.

When fourth and fifth moons of Pluto were found, the team responsible passed the privilege of naming them on to anyone who had a suggestion. Controversy struck again when the IAU passed over top vote getter "Vulcan" citing naming conflicts with naming standards.

The IAU is giving it another go with the formal naming of S/2004 N1, but this time has established guidelines in place up front.  The name should be:

  • 16 characters or less in length, preferably a single word
  • pronounceable in as many languages as possible
  • names of a purely or principally commercial nature are not allowed
  • not too similar to an existing name of an astronomical object (sorry Vulcan)
  • non-offensive in any language or culture
  • names of pet animals are discouraged (I'm not aware of the story behind this one, I'm guessing its good.)
  • names of individuals, places or events principally known for political or military activities are unsuitable

The name ultimately selected should fit with the theme used for Neptune's other moons: Triton, Nereid, Naiad, Thalassa, Despina, Galatea, Larissa, Proteus, Halimede, Psamathe, Sao, Laomedeia and Neso. All are lesser sea gods and nymphs in Greek mythology. 

You can email your suggestion to iaupublic@iap.fr.

Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.


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  • donaldbriscar Aug 18, 2013

    To the previous comment, ny e-mail address is donald. briscar@gmail.com

  • donaldbriscar Aug 18, 2013

    Naming the Moon ???? Your timing is impeccable as I have been developing that idea for a number of years and am ready to blog about it and set up a special page. It should be noted that when I was in radio, late 80's I created a worldwide contest to name the Moon and actually submitted a name to the International Astronomical Union. I still have most of my stories, but the most interesting aspect of that was the campaign was called ' Moon P.I.E.S' "Please Identify Earth's Satelitte" and I had to get permission from Chattanooga Bakery, the maker of Moon Pies. We should talk..MY e-mail is donald.briscsr@gmail.com

  • zachiarose Aug 16, 2013

    Mr. Mooney

  • Tony Rice Aug 16, 2013

    Festus from Gunsmoke? I love it! Or as in "Uncle" Either way submit it!

  • tjdebord Aug 16, 2013

    I guess Festus is out of the question. :-)