This blog has been dedicated for over a year to telling the stories of words and word origins in science. Science (along with math, technology and engineering) is a rich field for etymologists, as the discoveries of science and the creation of new words almost always have a great back story to go with the word.
Today, however, is your chance to help create a science word, by naming the two newest moons of Pluto: currently known as P4 and P5. First the current names:
Pluto is the Roman name for the Greek god Hades, master of the underworld. The underworld was the place where the souls of the departed go after they die. After Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto from the Lowell Observatory in 1930, a little girl named Venetia Burney from Oxford, England suggested that he name it “Pluto”. Tombaugh liked the idea, in part because the initial letters “PL” reminded him of Percival Lowell, namesake for the obsevatory and the first to propose the existence of a “Planet X”.
Charon is the name of Pluto’s largest and innermost moon. It was discovered in 1978 by James Christy. In mythology, Charon was the boatsman who ferried the souls of the dead across the river Styx into the underworld.
Nix and Hydra are the names of Pluto’s next two moons, discovered in 2005 in Hubble telescope images by a team of astronomers led by Hal Weaver and Alan Stern. Nix is the goddess of the night and Hydra is the name of the many-headed monster who guarded one of entrances to the underworld. These names, with initials “NH”, were chosen to match the initials of New Horizons, the NASA spacecraft now on its way to Pluto.
Here is a little bit of background on the names that currently appear on the ballot for the new moons:
Acheron: One of the five rivers of the underworld, symbolizing pain.
Alecto: One of the furies, hideous snake-haired monsters who were servants of Hades. It was the job of Alecto to punish mortals for their crimes of anger.
Cerberus/Kerberos: The three-headed dog who guards the gates to the underworld, preventing the the dead from escaping.
Erebus: A primordial god and the personification of darkness. With Nyx, he fathered many children including Hypnos and Styx.
Eurydice: The wife of Orpheus, for whom he entered the underworld. During their journey home, Orpheus violated his agreement with Persephone not to look back, and Eurydice was lost forever.
Heracles/Hercules: The heroic demigod who slew the Hydra, entered the underworld and who also carried Cerberus back. He is one of very few who ever returned from the underworld.
Hypnos: A son of Nyx and the personification of sleep.
Lethe: One of the five rivers of the underworld, symbolizing oblivion. It flows through the cave of Hypnos and merges with the river Styx.
Obol/Obolus: The coin paid to Charon in order to obtain passage across the river Styx.
Orpheus/Orfeus: A gifted musician who entered the underworld to retrieve his wife Eurydice. He charmed Hades and Persephone with his music, and became the only mortal ever to return from the underworld.
Persephone/Proserpina: A goddess kidnapped by Hades to become the queen of the underworld. She is the symbolizes vegetation and rebirth.
Styx: The river that separates Earth from the underworld. This name also refers to the goddess of the river Styx, daughter of Nyx and Erebus.
You can vote here: www.plutorocks.com
Special thanks to www.space.com and www.plutorocks.com for this content.