Two of Pluto’s small moons, previously known just as P4 and P5, have been given official names by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). Pluto is the god of the underworld in classical mythology, so P4 has been named Kerberos after the three-headed dog which guarded the entrance to Pluto’s realm, and P5 has been named Styx after the river that the souls of the dead had to cross to reach the underworld. (The ferryman was called Charon—the name of Pluto’s biggest moon.)
Kerberos and Styx were discovered in 2011 and 2012 respectively by Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute using the Hubble Space Telescope in searches specifically aimed at finding if there were any undetected objects in the Pluto system. Such objects could prove hazardous to the New Horizons probe, which is due to fly within the orbit of the innermost known moon, Charon, in 2015.
The names of the new-found moons were chosen after a poll conducted by Showalter, in which over 450,000 people took part. The first choice was actually Vulcan, after the fictional planet in the Star Trek universe. But despite endorsements by actors William Shatner and Leonard Nimory, this was rejected by the IAU because Vulcan (god of the forge) isn’t connected to Pluto in mythology, and had also been used for a hypothetical planet once thought to orbit the Sun closer than Mercury. Cerberus came second in the poll but is already the name of an asteroid, so the spelling was changed to Kerberos. Styx was the third most popular choice.
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