The Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (that has the handy acronym WGPSN) has officially approved the naming of 14 features on the surface of Pluto. These are the first features to be officially named on the distant dwarf planet. The names honor explorers, astronomers, science enthusiasts, and mythological figures related to the underworld.
“We’re very excited to approve names recognizing people of significance to Pluto and the pursuit of exploration as well as the mythology of the underworld. These names highlight the importance of pushing to the frontiers of discovery,” WGPSN chair Rita Schulz said in a statement. “We appreciate the contribution of the general public in the form of their naming suggestions and the New Horizons team for proposing these names to us.”
Three of the features honor people who had a great impact on our study of Pluto. Tombaugh Regio recognizes astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto, while Burney Crater is dedicated to Venetia Burney, the woman who actually suggested the name Pluto to Tombaugh. Elliot Crater is for James Elliot, an MIT researcher whose work was crucial for the first detection of Pluto’s atmosphere.
Five features are dedicated to mythological underworlds. There is Tartarus Dorsa, a ridge named after the deepest, darkest pit of Hades. Djanggawul Fossae is a network of depressions named after three ancestral beings in indigenous Australian mythology. Adlivun Cavus is a deep depression named after the underworld in Inuit mythology. Sleipnir Fossa is a canyon named after the eight-legged horse that took Odin to Hel. Finally, there’s Virgil Fossae, a large crevice recognizing Virgil, one of the greatest Latin poets and Dante’s fictional guide through hell and purgatory in the Divine Comedy.
Three space missions have also been remembered on the surface of the planet. The heart of Pluto is now officially Sputnik Planitia after Sputnik 1, the first space satellite. There’s Voyager Terra, dedicated to the Voyager probes, and Hayabusa Terra in honor of the Japanese spacecraft that returned to Earth the first asteroid sample.
The remaining three features are dedicated to explorers and a geographer. Al-Idrisi Montes is a mountain range in honor of Ash-Sharif al-Idrisi, a noted Arab mapmaker, geographer, and writer of The Pleasure of Him Who Longs to Cross the Horizons. Tenzing Montes and Hillary Montes are dedicated to Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary, the Indian/Nepali Sherpa and New Zealand mountaineer who were the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest and live.
More names for Pluto and Charon’s features have been submitted to the WGPSN. The group is part of the International Astronomical Union, which has made sure the names adhere to the extensive list of rules for naming astrophysical objects and features.