We continue to receive a fascinating collection of nominees for the OurPluto campaign. Here are a few that we recently added to the ballot.
Several wrote to remind us of the iconic prints by Gustav Doré, a French artist from the 19th century who illustrated an 1861 edition of Dante’s Inferno.
In the category of historical explorers, we learned about Michał Boym: “He is notable as one of the first westerners to travel within the Chinese mainland and his Flora Sinensis was the first description of an ecosystem of the Far East published in Europe. Boym also published the first dictionary to translate between Chinese and European languages.
Another historic explorer reminds of the roles that serendipity and patience play in all of science: Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, who discovered the first prehistoric cave paintings known to the modern world. “He was a Spanish amateur archaeologist and explorer of the Cave of Altamira. These caves provide a window into human development, much as Pluto provides a window into Solar System development. Although Sautuola’s discoveries were discredited by experts early on, he was later completely vindicated and his discoveries appreciated, albeit after his death.”
Finally, a New Jersey professor provided a very good reason for his endorsement of Krun, a monster of the darkness. “I’m trying to raise awareness of the Mandaean community of Iraq and Iran. They are one of the few communities from the Middle East that still preserve the ancient Babylonian tradition of divination by the stars and heavenly bodies (astrology), directly from the source (they even retain the traditional Akkadian names for the stars and the visible planets). [….] Unfortunately, with the Second Gulf War, their community (a minority faith in both Iraq and Iran) has become progressively endangered, and much of it has gone into a global diaspora. The lives of those that remain and their ancient culture are threatened by religious extremists, such as ISIS, who seek to eliminate anything pre-Islamic in the Middle East. I hope that OurPluto can establish a monument to them in the heavens, where these extremists cannot reach them.”
The OurPluto naming campaign has been an exhilarating experience for me so far. The amount of thought that our site visitors have been putting into their nominations astounds me. You can visit the Site News page for regular updates. Today I would just like to highlight a few of the new names that we added to the ballot last night.
On the list of scientists and engineers, we have added Carl Pulfrich, 1858-1927. Although he died before the 1930 discovery of Pluto, he contributed in a critical way—he invented the blink comparator. This is a device that lets you switch back and forth between two sky plates, looking for subtle changes. Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto using a blink comparator. The discovery would not have been possible without the device.
From Europe, we were reminded of the importance of the Soviet The Luna Program: “Luna was a series of robotic spacecraft missions sent to the Moon by the Soviet Union between 1959 and 1976. Fifteen were successful, each designed as either an orbiter or lander, and accomplished many firsts in space exploration. They also performed many experiments, studying the Moon’s chemical composition, gravity, temperature, and radiation. Twenty-four spacecraft were formally given the Luna designation, although more were launched.”
Two prominent women explorers were also nominated. For Alexandrine Tinné, who explored the Nile and the Sahara in the 1860s, the nomination reads, “It is rare that we take the opportunity to praise some of the women who have contributed to the exploration of our world. Ms. Tinné was courageous, dedicated, and passed on a legacy of adventure for today’s women to aspire to.”
We also learned about Jeanne Baré who, a century earlier, became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. She was naturalist studying the world’s plants. However, times being what they were, she had to impersonate a man for the journey.
Our fictional explorers now include several popular nominees. Among others, we include a pair of the great travelers in literature, Don Quijote and his patient squire Sancho Panza.
In the category of Underworld beings, we learned that the King of the Underworld in Vietnam has a Pluto connection. “Diem Vuong is the King of Hades. Demons obey and serve him. He is the ruler of the underworld and the judge of the bad souls after death. Diem Vuong once upon a time has been added to form “Diem Vuong Tinh” to name for Pluto in Vietnamese.”
In Inuit mythology, we learned that the realm of the dead has an astronomical connection. The souls of the dead first spend time under ground in Adlivun, but later ascend to a permanent home in Quidlivun, on the Moon.
Pluto is just 3.5 pixels across in the latest images from the New Horizons spacecraft. That’s nine square pixels. You can’t do much with nine pixels. You might be able to see crude patterns of light and dark, but you probably wouldn’t call it a map. Still, it’s a start.
In a few months, this will all change. Craters, mountains and other landforms will take shape before our eyes. When New Horizons flies past Pluto in July, we will see a new, alien landscape in stark detail. At that point, we will have a lot to talk about. The only way we can talk about it is if those features, whatever they turn out to be, have names.
Today we are beginning a campaign called “Our Pluto”. The goal is to gather together the names that we will eventually use to label the maps of Pluto and its large moon, Charon. After discussions with the International Astronomical Union (IAU), we have defined a set of broad themes for these names, related to mythology, literature and history.
The New Horizons science team is doing something unprecedented. Naming campaigns have been held before, but on a different scale. Today, the entire landscapes of Pluto and Charon is open to the public. We have called the campaign “Our Pluto” because we think that everyone should have a say in the names we use on those strange and distant worlds. At ourpluto.seti.org, you can vote for your favorite names, talk about them, and nominate names that we might have overlooked.
After the campaign ends, the New Horizons science team will select your best ideas and pitch them to the IAU. The IAU will have final say over the names on the maps of Pluto and Charon.
Let the conversation begin!
A Piece of Mars: With all due apologies to followers of the show Coupling, I have to call these things “melty dunes”. This link shows what a crisp dune should look like. The dunes in this 600×450 m (0.37×0.28 mi) scene, however, have rounded crests and sand that seems to have ponded around the bottom of the dunes. These are common at high southern latitudes on Mars. (HiRISE ESP_039610_1150, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)
A piece of Mars: Ripples form endless chevrons in this 600×450 m (0.37×0.30 mi) scene. It’s really the crest of a dune that connects all the vertices in the chevrons, making that straight line that runs nearly vertical through the center. Wind from the south (bottom) is deflected by this crest and other local topography just out of the scene. This pattern has been there for at least 3 Mars years. How long will it last? (HiRISE ESP_013785_1300, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)
No one is ever excited when the topic of “dust” is brought up. Usually dust is a hindrance – something you sweep away during spring-cleaning, or an annoyance because your allergies can’t handle it. But for astronomers, finding dust around another star – i.e., circumstellar dust – is like finding the next piece of an interstellar puzzle. That’s because circumstellar dust holds clues to understanding not only the origins of planets outside of our solar system, but also gives us a leg up in figuring out our place in the Universe. (more…)
A piece of Mars: Most dunes on Mars are dark, like these and these. So why is this one bright? It’s adjacent to a more typical, dark dune. It’s possible that there are two populations of sand here that are different enough in size or density, and so they respond to different winds – thus producing remarkably different dunes in the same location. (HiRISE ESP_039568_1120, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)
A piece of Mars: The smooth areas are eroded dunes, separated by fields of boulders (the scene is 1.51×1.14 km or 0.93×0.71 mi). The largest boulder near the center is 7.5 m (25 ft) across, the size of a small RV. The interesting wave patterns on the lower sides of the smooth dunes… well, I don’t know. My best guess is it’s another type of bedform created from the sand of the smooth dunes. Do you know? (HiRISE ESP_039595_1230, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)
A piece of Mars: What happens to dunes as they move over rough terrain? This is what a barchan looks like on a relatively flat surface. If the hills are smaller than the dune, then it does its best to pretend they don’t exist, like the one in this image. It’s 175m (574ft) wide and 190m (623ft) long, with a slipface indicating overall migration to the northeast. (HiRISE ESP_039524_1445, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)
A piece of Mars: This scene (600×450 m or 1969×1476 ft) is covered in small craters, formed by the splash of a larger crater nearby. They cover everything, even the bright ripples visible on the right. So the ripples were there before the impact that formed all these little craters. And yet… there are itsy little gray ripples on the upper right, merging with the crater rims – these are new ripples, younger than the craters. On Mars, it’s the wind that wins in the end. (HiRISE ESP_039057_1485, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)