This month’s New Horizons flyby of dwarf planet Pluto and its biggest moon Charon left a wealth of incredible data in its wake, with unforgettable pictures of geographic features such as the now famous giant “heart” on Pluto.
But the highly detailed pictures gave the New Horizons team a welcome problem: What do they call all those craters, plains and mountain ranges?
Now, thanks to maps the New Horizons team plans to submit to the International Astronomical Union (the official governing body for names of celestial objects), we know the answer.
Their names are drawn from movies, TV shows and books sure to gladden every geek’s heart — including Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Firefly, Alien, Lord of the Rings and the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
The New Horizons team actually asked for submissions from the public, and they were happy to oblige.
Pluto, according to IAU rules, must have its fictional names drawn from underworld mythology — so the NASA team offered the Cthulu regio (regio being a large area differentiated by its color) and the Balrog macula (dark spot), honoring Lovecraft’s dark god and J.R.R. Tolkein’s underground demons, respectively.
But it’s Charon where the NASA team really went to Geek Town. The IAU rules allow names that reference “destinations and milestones of fictional space,” as well as fictional spaceships and travelers.
Thus we have craters with the unofficial names of Vader, Skywalker and Leia Organa. (The Vader one, of course, is darker.)
Spock, Kirk, Sulu and Uhura craters dot the Vulcan plane.
Spock, Kirk, Sulu and Uhura craters dot the Vulcan plane. The Tardis chasma crosses the Gallifrey macula — named for the Doctor’s vessel and home planet respectively. Which could make for an awkward moment if the Time Lord ever lands there.The Ripley crater and Nostromo chasma reference Alien, while the Serenity chasma is named for the ship in the most up-to-date reference, Joss Whedon’s cult one-season sci-fi hit Firefly.
And there’s one more Lord of the Rings reference for good measure — the giant Mordor macula up at Charon’s north pole.
Though they are still provisional, “we have a decent chance of getting these names approved,” New Horizons planetary scientist Mark Showalter tells Mashable.
“The IAU tends to favor names that have been around for a while, but Star Trek is almost 50-years-old now and Star Wars is about 40-years-old.”
The IAU has previously approved features on Saturn’s moon Titan named Frodo and Bilbo, Showalter points out.
But these would be the solar system’s first ever Star Wars and Doctor Who names — and the first Star Trek references, if you don’t count a crater on Mars named for the late Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.
And at least one Trek luminary is already thrilled: Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner.
“I am proud that they have named a series of physical features on Charon afterStar Trek and other shows including Kirk’s Crater,” Shatner told Mashable after learning of the naming. “It is an honor to have a character you helped create be given such an esteemed recognition.”
Miriam Kramer and Lance Ulanoff contributed to this report
Article taken from Pluto Moon host first Star Wars and Star Trek name in Space