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Heavenly names
June 22, 2006 12:17 PM   Subscribe

+2. Two new moons of Pluto (itself named by a British schoolgirl) get their own names -- Nix and Hydra. The origins of planetary names can be fascinating, but there are also thousands of other named features that can be examined (with pictures) in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature. [Prev. discussion on Pluto here.]
posted by blahblahblah (25 comments total)

 
Venetia Burney! Falconer Madan! That was a family of excellent names.
posted by blacklite at 12:31 PM on June 22, 2006


I'm still crossing my fingers that Pluto will no longer be a planet when the new definition is announced. It just makes no sense when there are larger trans-Neptunian objects, like 2003 UB313.
posted by Plutor at 12:44 PM on June 22, 2006


I was going to post about this, but blahblahblah beat me to it, so here it is:

Meet Nix and Hydra. Discovered by Hubble last year, they, along with big brother Charon, make up the three (known) moons of Pluto, the ninth and smallest planet (though not always always the farthest). Some believe Pluto isn't even a planet but one of hundreds of distant trans-Neptunian objects, others say it stays a planet, no matter what. But if Pluto is a planet despite its size, then what about Sedna? Or Quaoar? Or this(pdf) one, which has a moon of its own? We'll know for sure this September. And what are we going to name them if they are? We're running out of Roman gods (thankfully, this name is only temporary).

All this too dry and scientific? Get this, add this, press "9 g" and see it all for yourself.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:55 PM on June 22, 2006


Sorry, Pastabagel! Thanks for posting your version though, it makes great reading.
posted by blahblahblah at 12:57 PM on June 22, 2006


That's ok. I'll just wait for astronomers to discover and name some more planets. ;)

What's funny is that I was looking at that same usgs gazetter site when I refreshed and saw your post!

Interesting sidebar about planet names - according to some old IAU rules (which are linked on wikipedia but have since disappeared from the IAU site, curiously) planet names must come from roman gods, of which there are precious few and we've already burned through nine.

Vulcan may be out because that was the name of the planet that was believed to lie between Mercury and the sun, (or according to others, Earth's twin that was on the opposite side of the sun and thus could never be seen).

I suppose Lucifer is being saved for the legendary monstrous planet x off in the oort cloud that will one day kill us all. Doesn't leave too many others... Anything but Xena...
posted by Pastabagel at 1:10 PM on June 22, 2006


Man some of those Roman gods from Pastabagel's link sound like Monty Python skits. Yes, Janus, god of...um...doors. And Vulcan, god of....smithing! As for running out of names, there are a bunch of goddess names left, since we've only used Venus.

Personally, I'm waiting for Planet Bacchus! Now that will be a good time.
posted by witchstone at 1:18 PM on June 22, 2006


Running out of names? Arthur C. Clarke figured this would happen back when he wrote the first (and only good) Rama book. What, they all have to be Roman names, now? Please. There are enough wacked-job gods in all the mythologies of the world to name every pebble flying around the sun.

I'm not sure Mission to Quexacoatl doesn't really roll off the tongue, though. (And I gotta stand up for Janus. We wouldn't have January without him.)
posted by absalom at 1:35 PM on June 22, 2006


bring out your broadsword
there's the hydra
slash its throat
and grab its scroat
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 1:55 PM on June 22, 2006


For moons, they already tap other mythologies: Inuit, Celtic, and Norse, among others.

And there are probably thousands of Roman gods, if you count the more minor dieties of places.
posted by blahblahblah at 2:04 PM on June 22, 2006


This post was really annoying. Why? Because it was about nothing other then generic info about naming planets, not at all about the actual discovery of a new moons. The only thing about actual discovery of the moons was one, non-linked sentence in the FPP text itself. No links to pictures or announcements or anything else.

The links for Nyx and Hydra appear to be the results of google searches or something.

Plus some random padding links.
posted by delmoi at 2:04 PM on June 22, 2006


Pastabagel's would have been much better, IMO.
posted by delmoi at 2:05 PM on June 22, 2006


witchstone: I think you mean Eddie Izzard:

"And then the Romans came along with their gods that they had borrowed from the Greeks. They invaded Greece, conquered them and stole all their gods... and renamed them with Roman names, 'cause the Roman gods before that were kind of crap, you know - Geoff, the god of biscuits, and Simon, the god of hairdos… You know, they had the God of War, the God of Thunder, the God of Running Around and Jumping and Stuff. 'Oh, let's get some of those! Thank God they've got some gods, 'cause we have these crap gods, you know?'"
posted by abcde at 2:06 PM on June 22, 2006


But now we get them both. They can't always all be swings for the fence.
posted by absalom at 2:06 PM on June 22, 2006


Too bad the discovery team didn't submit Xena [and moon Gabrielle] for consideration as the official and permanent names for UB313... how cool would that be? The name 'Xena' just sounds like a heavenly body, certainly more so than some of the obscure appellations of antiquity that astronomers have been calling recently discovered satellites of Jupiter and Saturn. Even though Xena is modern-fauxmythological Greek while the other planets are ancient-mythological Roman, it still looks right.
posted by SenshiNeko at 2:07 PM on June 22, 2006


Delmoi, there have already been many posts about Pluto, its status as a planet, and other related matters. Nix and Hydra themselves were discovered a year ago, so it wasn't really news.

Today, they were officially named, and I happen to find the discussion of how Nix and Hydra (not to mention Pluto) got their names interesting, and there has been no FPPs on the naming of planets. Having encountered it awhile ago, I found the Gazetteer fascinating, since there are thousands of features discussed on the site. Perhaps I didn't need to segue from the naming of moons to the naming of astronomical objects, but I had no idea other people would be creating other links on the subjects

So, feel free to read Pastabagel's links.
posted by blahblahblah at 2:13 PM on June 22, 2006


IAU changed the spelling to Nix to avoid confusion with an asteroid named Nyx.
This is really weird. Does IAU change spellings often?
posted by gubo at 2:59 PM on June 22, 2006


My solution for the whole nomenclatural issue with Pluto and Kuiper Belt Objects is to demote Pluto to KBO status, but use "plutino" as the catch-all label for KBOs and their ilk. That way, we can preserve Pluto's lofty status as the first found KBO, but acknowledge that there are other objects of similar size and composition sharing its neck of the woods.

I have a friend named Nix, by the way. He'll love this.

Running out of names? Arthur C. Clarke figured this would happen back when he wrote the first (and only good) Rama book.

This is why we have Quaoar.
posted by brownpau at 3:06 PM on June 22, 2006


Can we finally rename Uranus already? I'm tired of the snickering whenever I discuss our lovely 7th planet.
posted by horsewithnoname at 3:42 PM on June 22, 2006


This post was really annoying. Why? Because it was about nothing other then generic info about naming planets, not at all about the actual discovery of a new moons. The only thing about actual discovery of the moons was one, non-linked sentence in the FPP text itself. No links to pictures or announcements or anything else.

The Discovery Channel link in the FPP talks about the discovery and has a link to a photo.
posted by D.C. at 5:21 PM on June 22, 2006


An ode to Hydra and Nix in the style of the Beastie Boys, sort of, though I've never really tried that before
posted by cortex at 5:25 PM on June 22, 2006


Can we finally rename Uranus already? I'm tired of the snickering whenever I discuss our lovely 7th planet.

Fry: "Hey, as long as you don't make me smell Uranus."
Leela: "I don't get it."
Professor: "I'm sorry, Fry, but astronomers renamed Uranus in 2620 to end that stupid joke once and for all."
Fry: "Oh. What's it called now?"
Professor: "Urectum."
posted by brownpau at 5:49 PM on June 22, 2006




There was a page on the IAU's website once upon a time that articulated exactly what cultural resources could be tapped for what types of celestial bodies, and in what order. It was very specific - gods for this, minor gods for that, the muses for these things, dead scientists, etc. The IAU has since removed it, probably because they are planning on changing the rules.

Also, a correction - evidently the IAU has not firmly decided on Pluto's status. They are debating it this summer.

The problem is that while there are plenty of minor gods, those get used for asteroids. There are only a dozen or so major Roamn gods (the roman equivalent of the greek's olympians), and the greek ones are used for moons (and we're running out there as well thank you very much Jupiter and Saturn).

As someone mentioned, they tap other culture's mythologies for TNO's. I don't think they've started in with Vedic culture. I really wish that page was still around A friend joked that at this rate their going to have to mine the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual.

What will be interesting in September is how the IAU deals with planets outside of our solar system. I'm against TV shows (particularly crappy ones like the aforementioned Xena, which is also too close to Xenu and Xeni for anyone's comfort).

Personally, I like the idea of naming them after the discoverer or their spouse or children (at the discoverer's option) as is done with comets.

And there aren't enough posts about planets, for the record.
posted by Pastabagel at 5:55 PM on June 22, 2006


Gubo - The IAU used to allow asteroids and planetary satellites to have the same name - for instance, Pandora is the 55th numbered asteroid and a moon of Saturn - but they seem to have changed their tune.

Why didn't the IAU go all the way and change Nyx's name to GNU-Nix? :-)
posted by lukemeister at 1:07 AM on June 23, 2006


And for those asking the question, is it bigger than a breadbox?...
The two new moons are between 30 and 100 miles (45 to 160 kilometers) in diameter, Weaver said. There is not enough data to pin their size down exactly, however. Pluto is 1,430 miles wide and Charon's diameter is about 730 miles.
posted by missbossy at 2:44 AM on June 23, 2006


This is when we begin our letter writing campaign insisting on the inclusion of Mythos beings.
posted by absalom at 11:51 AM on June 23, 2006


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