If you know your mythology, you’re already familiar with Pluto’s spooktacular namesake; the lovable dwarf planet is named after the Roman god of the underworld, also known as Hades in Greek mythology. He was chiefly in charge of judging the dead, which sounds like one hell of a great gig.
Today, the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which oversees the naming of all celestial bodies, finally made Pluto’s spooky status official: the organisation announced it has approved underworld, mythology, explorer and scientist-themed names for Pluto and its moons’ surface features, including ice mountains, craters, canyons, and cliffs. The decision will help to formalize many of the informal names already given to Pluto’s surface features, such as Cthulhu Regio, and Norgay Montes. Cthulu is, of course, the octopus beast from H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulu, and Norgay Montes is named for Tenzing Norgay, the first man to summit Mount Everest along with Sir Edmund Hillary.
NASA’s New Horizons mission team, which launched on January 9th, 2006, conducted a six-month-long reconnaissance flyby study of Pluto in 2015. The same year of the flyby, New Horizons launched a campaign allowing the public to help name Pluto’s surface features, which is in part what led to the informal names the dwarf planet already sports.
Ultimately, NASA has now decided that Pluto, its largest moon, Charon, and its four smaller moons—Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra—will have surface features inspired by the mythology related to each celestial body’s name. Pluto, for example, will have surface features named after deities associated with the underworld, as well as scientists who’ve studied Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. Charon, named after the ferryman of the underworld’s River Styx, will have features associated with fictional space voyagers and vessels. Best of all, Kerberos, a moon named after the three-headed pupper of the underworld, will have surface features named after fictional and mythological dogs.
Clearly, this decision is extremely on-brand for the prince of darkness dwarf planet. Naming planets and moons after gods and goddesses has long been a celestial tradition, but it’s admittedly cooler when those deities are hellish and terrifying. [NASA]