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Pluto moons to get new names through contest

Feb 13 (): Pluto moons need names; a worldwide contest has been announced on Monday asking people to give names to the two moons of Pluto that were discovered in 2011 and 2012. Presently, these moons are called P4 and P5.

Pluto was discovered in 1930. In 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) gave a new definition of “planet”. That year, Pluto was downgraded to the status of “dwarf planet,” a newly created category to describe many other objects in the Kuiper Belt, the ring of icy bodies beyond Neptune.

The two baby moons of Pluto were discovered by Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute, using the photographs of Hubble space telescope. In 2011, P4 was discovered from the images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, while P5 was found a year later during a more intensive search. The moons are only 15 to 20 miles across.

Pluto has three other moons that are named as Charon (a ferryman, who carries souls across the river Styx), Hydra (multi-headed monster) and Nix (night goddess); now P4 and P5 need names derived from Greek or Roman mythology, similar to under worldly references.

Mark launched a portal yesterday, called Pluto Rocks, to start a worldwide poll. Site Pluto Rocks allows people to choose from a list of names while also letting them suggest their own. The options they provide on the site include: Acheron, Alecto, Cererus, Erebus, Eurydice, Hercules, Hypnos, Lethe, Obol, Orpheus, Persephone, and Styx.

Till February 25, the votes will be taken. With the website Plutorocks.com, you can vote for your favourite name. Once they find out the names that top the vote list, they will be handed on to the nomenclature committee of IAU, which has the final say on the names.

In 1930, astronomer Clyde Tombaugh wanted help naming the planet. The winning name came from an 11-year-old named Venetia Burney.

Mark Showalter said that they are doing honours to Tombaugh’s legacy by opening up the naming of the two tiniest moons of Pluto to everyone.

Currently, Pluto is receiving extra attention from astronomers, as NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is slated to arrive there in July 2015.

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