AS PLUTO’S NEWLY DISCOVERED MOONS RECEIVE NAMES – HERE’S A HISTORY LESSON ON THEIR DARK PAST.
Photo By: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (Links below).
The 2 newly discovered satellites of Pluto dubbed P4 (Discovered in 2011) and P5 (Discovered in 2012) were graced with official new names on July 2, 2013 by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and those names (Kerberos & Styx) uphold the dark, hellish names of the Pluto family.
Let’s back up a bit here and start from the beginning, a bit long but I think you will enjoy this as it will give you a new perspective on one of the solar systems most distant objects…..please continue.
Pluto was discovered on February 18, 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh while at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff AZ. Then director Vesto Melvin Slipher tasked the 23 year old Tombaugh with finding another planet that they tentatively dubbed “Planet-X” until it was found. Pluto was found while looking at photographic plates that were taken on the 23 & 29th of January 1930 and the discovery announced on March 13, 1930 – Percival Lowell’s birthday.
The name Pluto was chosen by 11 year old Venetia Burney who decided to continue the tradition of naming planets after Roman GODs. Not to mention the initials PL for Pluto matched the initials of Percival Lowell, who the observatory is named after. The name Pluto represents the Roman GOD of the underworld (Hades would be the Greek counterpart). Pluto is tiny, just 1430 mi. (2300 km) which is smaller than even our own Moon and on August 24, 2006, after thorough study by Caltech astronomer Mike brown https://twitter.com/plutokiller and with the visual aid presented by Astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson at the Hayden Planetarium in NYC Pluto https://twitter.com/neiltyson was officially voted out as a planet by the IAU. Though amazingly, less than 5% of the world’s 10,000 + official astronomers even voted.
Pluto’s first moon Charon wasn’t discovered until June 22, 1978 by US NAVAL Observatory astronomer James Christy who was looking through photographic plates of Pluto taken at the 61-inchtelescope at the NAVAL Observatory in Flagstaff AZ. Noticing that some of the plates had Pluto looking like it had a massive rounded mountain or swell of some sort more observation was conducted and Pluto’s first moon confirmed. The name Charon is derived from Greek mythology (As most moons are) and it represents the ferryman who transported freshly deceased bodies across the river Styx. Charon is approximately half the size of Pluto making it the largest moon of any planetary body in the solar system. They are also tidally locked like the Earth and Moon, so only one side of Charon ever faces Pluto.
In June of 2005 the Hubble Space Telescope as part of the Pluto Companion Search Team, independently detected two more satellites orbiting Pluto. They were initially cataloged as S/2005 P1 and S/2005 P2 until June 2006 when they were awarded the equally dark names Nix and Hydra. Nix is the Greek Goddess of Darkness & Night as well as the mother to Charon and sometimes depicted as the mist emanating from the underworld. The actual Greek spelling is Nyx but asteroid 3908, an Amor class asteroid already had that name, to avoid confusion the moon was spelled in the Egyptian equivalent; Nix. Hydra is the nine-headed serpent which was fitting at the time as it represented the 9 planets in the Solar System. In addition, Nix & Hydra bear the initials “NH”, no not for the great state of New Hampshire which I would find terrific but for the then under construction New Horizons Spacecraft which is currently en route to the underworld as we speak and is scheduled to arrive in 2015. The “H” in Hydra is also meant to honor Hubble, the telescope that discovered the two objects.
Technical Stuff: The actual discovery images were taken on May 15 & 18, 2005; they were independently discovered by Max Mutchler on June 15, 2005 (Nix) and Andrew Steffl on August 15, 2005 (Hydra). After precovery data was analyzed to confirm the discovery, it was announced on October 31, 2005 (Another dark day of the year).
The SETI Institute, while using the Hubble Space Telescope discovered two more satellites orbiting Pluto. Designated P4, discovered in 2011 and P5, discovered in 2012. On July 2, 2013 the IAU awarded the two new satellites the names Kerberos (Formerly P4) and Styx (Formerly P5). Kerberos in Greek mythology is the 3 headed dog and guardian of the underworld. Its true spelling is Cerberus but that name was already taken by an asteroid (1865 Cerberus), an Apollo Asteroid. Styx (Formerly P5) was the river that separated the underworld from the land of mortals. It was also the river that Charon crossed with the bodies of dead mortals.
I hope you all enjoyed the breakdown and history of Pluto’s family and in my opinion I believe these new names are great and fit perfectly with the mysterious, dark naming tradition of one of the Solar Systems furthest objects at about 4 billion miles away and a collection of objects we know little about.
International Astronomical Union release regarding the naming of Pluto’s P4 & P5 moons: http://www.iau.org/public_press/news/detail/iau1303/
ESA Hubble page on the discovery of Pluto’s moons P4 & P5: http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1212/
Lowell Observatory discovery of Pluto: http://www.lowell.edu/about_history_pluto.php
Universe Today – Discovery of Pluto: http://www.universetoday.com/46255/when-was-pluto-discovered/
NASA detail of Pluto’s moon Charon: http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Plu_Charon
Hubble Naming of Nix & Hydra: http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2006/29/full/