What would you name a new moon?
Posted August 15, 2013
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. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.