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Dwarf Planet Pluto Surface Features Get First Official Names

8 September 2017, 9:38 am EDT By Athena Chan Tech Times
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New horizons flyover of Pluto

Pluto's "heart" as well as 13 of its other main features have finally been named. Get to know the new names of Pluto's features and why they are equal parts significant and cool.

Pluto Is Back

Anyone else miss Pluto? The dwarf planet is back, and it is getting the attention it deserves as 14 locations on its surface have already been named.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) announced the new as well as not-so-new official names last Sept. 7. The names were approved by IAU's Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN) as suggested by NASA's New Horizons team after the July 2015 close flyby of the New Horizons spacecraft and as proposed by the public via Our Pluto campaign.

Official Name For Pluto's Heart

First off, the famous heart-shaped plain on Pluto's surface now gets to keep the unofficial name it had been using for the past few years — Sputnik Planitia — in honor of the Soviet spacecraft launched in 1957. Other space program-based names are Voyager Terra and Hayabusa Terra, two large land masses named after NASA's Voyager spacecraft and the Japanese spacecraft that returned the first asteroid sample.

Noted People Honored

Clyde Tombaugh, the U.S. astronomer who discovered Pluto, and 11-year-old Venetia Burney, who suggested the name "Pluto" to Tombaugh, were also honored in the form of the Tombaugh Regio and the Burney crater. Another individual honored is James Elliot, noted MIT researcher whose work led to the discovery of Pluto's thin atmosphere as well as Uranus's rings. The Elliot crater was named to honor him.

The Tenzing Montes, Hillary Montes, and Al-Idrisi Montes are mountain ranges named to honor Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary, the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest and return safely, and Ash-Sharif Al-Idrisi, the celebrated Arab mapmaker and geographer.

The great Roman poet Virgil was also honored by having Virgil fossae named after him.

Mythology-Based Names

Names gathered from mythologies around the world were also given to various Pluto features such as the Sleipnir Fossa, named after the eight-legged horse from Norse mythology that carried the god Odin into the underworld, and the Adlivun Cavus, a deep depression named after Inuit mythology's underworld.

The Djanggawul Fossae was named after three ancestral beings in indigenous Australian mythology, while Tartarus Dorsa is named after the deepest pit of the underworld in Greek mythology.

"These names highlight the importance of pushing to the frontiers of discovery," said Rita Schulz, IAU's WGPSN chair.

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