February 11, 2013
(NASA, file/Associated Press) One of these bright areas with points is Pluto, and the others are three of its five moons.
One of these bright areas with points is Pluto, and the others are three of its five moons. (NASA/Associated Press)

Exciting news: you can vote to name Pluto’s two smallest moons!

This news about Pluto’s moons combines all the best things in this life: Classical Mythology, Space and Real-World Things Determined By Online Voting. And Pluto, everyone’s favorite ex-planet.

The SETI Institute has created a form for online voting. It urges you to choose from among a list of pre-made classically affiliated names — Acheron, Alecto, Cerberus, Erebus, Eurydice, Heracles, Hypnos, Lethe, Obol, Orpheus, Persephone and Styx.

These Greek underworld-affiliated names are great with the possible exception of Obol, which is like naming a moon “Dollar.” I would throw my vote in for Cerberus, which is both a dog and an element of the Greek underworld, like Pluto itself. Heracles, like Pluto, is the subject of a Disney movie, although his inclusion as an Underworld Figure seems like a bit of a stretch. How about Pirithous, if you’re going the heroes-who-visited Down Under route? He was at least decent enough to stick around, if only because he was stuck to a chair after trying to abduct Persephone. As we Classics students used to say, “Abduct me once, shame on me. Try to abduct me a second time, you will be stuck in the underworld forever on an enchanted chair, and your comrade Theseus will desert you.” (We didn’t say it very often, because it was not particularly applicable to our lives. Then we skulked away to lament how useless our years of study were.)

Acheron, Lethe and Styx are acceptable if you want to go the Moon-River route. And if you want to submit your own, remember that there are two of them. This is a great opportunity to use those cute paired names that you should not inflict on your pets, lest Waffles dies first and leaves Syrup desolate.

If you forgot Valentine’s Day, this is a great opportunity to make amends. Nothing says, “I’m a thoughtful date!” like “I’ve just made a limp effort to name a celestial body after you, Karen!” Even if that body is rocky, distant, and inhospitable to life, and the thing it orbits is no longer a planet. Women love big rocks!

The Web site does include the caveat that “We will take into consideration the results of the voting, but they are not binding. The discovery team, in consultation with the Nomenclature Working Groups of the International Astronomical Union, reserves the right to propose the names. Note that the International Astronomical Union has final authority over the naming of Pluto’s moons.” Then again, they are addressing this to a public that still thinks that the International Star Registry is a thing.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.