Reviews are Coming In

posted Jul 8, 2015, 4:55 AM by Mark Showalter   [ updated Jul 8, 2015, 4:57 AM ]

I am so gratified by the responses we are seeing to our Pluto naming proposal to the International Astronomical Union (IAU). No one has ever attempted a planetary naming campaign on the scale of this one, and we were not quite sure how it would all play out. I'm delighted to see that many are responding with the same level of enthusiasm that we are feeling.

From this morning's front page of, an English-language newspaper from China: "Here are the Proposed Names for Pluto's Maps and They're Really Awesome."

From Escapist Magazine"In the end, the document is spectacular reading material that demonstrates the breadth of human imagination and achievement while tapping into nostalgia, mythology, tragedy and triumph.”

"It is hardly a secret that nomenclature is the great bridge between laymen and scientists - everyone can appreciate a good name.... Hopefully this list contributes to a greater interest in astronomy among the general public."

From "The names are incredible, inspired by fictional travelers, destinations, vessels, and creatures."

I have often said that planetary nomenclature is supposed to be fun. Happily, I am not the only one who feels that way. I hope the IAU agrees.

Initial Proposal Submitted to the IAU

posted Jul 7, 2015, 6:41 AM by Mark Showalter   [ updated Jul 7, 2015, 6:43 AM ]

Pluto from New Horizons, July 3
Today we are pleased to announce our initial slate of names to be proposed to the IAU. We received so many great suggestions that winnowing down the list was a real challenge. Nevertheless, we limited our proposal to about ten names in each theme so as not to overwork the IAU nomenclature working group too heavily. There will be many more features to name, so rest assured that the names that didn't make the initial list will be used eventually. If your favorite name is not on these lists, please be patient!

We were particularly delighted by the diversity of the names that reached the top in the voting. I never would have guessed that The Epic of Gilgamesh would rank ahead of several popular TV shows. The list of historic explorers is particularly striking for its diversity. We think it is very important for the feature names on Pluto and its moons to reflect all the people on Planet Earth. Luckily for us, the nominations and votes we received made this easy.

Meanwhile, Pluto is getting closer every day. I can hardly wait.

Voting has ended

posted Apr 25, 2015, 12:50 AM by Mark Showalter

Thank you to everyone who participated in the OurPluto campaign.

We are assembling the campaign results for our proposal to the IAU. More information will follow.

Voting Ends Midnight Friday

posted Apr 23, 2015, 9:33 AM by Mark Showalter

As planned, voting for the OurPluto campaign will end at midnight Pacific Daylight Time on Friday, April 24. That's 7:00 GMT on April 25.

Although we have stopped adding nominations to the ballot, we continue to track the names being nominated and we will consider them when we prepare our slate of names to propose to the IAU. So many great ideas have been submitted; we only wish we could use more of them!

Odysseus Joins the Ballot!

posted Apr 10, 2015, 1:49 PM by Mark Showalter

Ulysses and the Sirens, 1891 painting by John William Waterhouse
Yesterday saw a large set of new nominations added to the ballots, 27 in all. Check them out. The new names appear at the top of each ballot.

Many of you have been nominating Odysseus or Ulysses (his Roman name). Although he is one of the greatest explorers in all of literature, not to mention a visitor to the Underworld, we have kept his name off the ballot due to conflicts: Odysseus is the name of a crater on Saturn's moon Tethys, and Ulysses is the name of some major features on Mars. What to do? Convincing the IAU to let us re-use the name could be difficult. However, a few of our participants submitted an excellent alternative: Laertides. Odysseus was often addressed by this name, which means "son of Laertes" in Greek. While the name is less familiar, it opens up the possibility of giving Odysseus a second home on Pluto. The name now appears as "Odysseus Laertides" on the ballot for travelers to the Underworld.

April 6, 2015: NASA Extends Campaign for Public to Name Features on Pluto

posted Apr 7, 2015, 9:21 AM by Mark Showalter

The public has until Friday, April 24 to help name new features on Pluto and its orbiting satellites as they are discovered by NASA’s New Horizons mission.
Announced in March, the agency wants to give the worldwide public more time to participate in the agency’s mission to Pluto that will make the first-ever close flyby of the dwarf planet on July 14.
The campaign extension, in partnership with the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in Paris, was due to the overwhelming response from the public.
"Due to increasing interest and the number of submissions we’re getting, it was clear we needed to extend this public outreach activity," said Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "This campaign not only reveals the public's excitement about the mission, but helps the team, which will not have time to come up with names during the flyby, to have a ready-made library of names in advance to officially submit to the IAU."
The IAU is the formal authority for naming celestial bodies. Submissions must follow a set of accepted themes and guidelines set out by the IAU’s Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature. After the campaign concludes, NASA's New Horizons team will sort through the names and submit its recommendations to the IAU. The IAU will decide whether and how the names will be used.
The campaign allows the public of all ages to submit names for the many new features scientists expect to discover on Pluto following the encounter.
"I'm impressed with the more than 40,000 thoughtful submissions," said Mark Showalter, New Horizons science team co-investigator, and scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, which is hosting the naming website. "Every day brings new lessons in the world's history, literature and mythology. Participation has come from nearly every country on Earth, so this really is a worldwide campaign."
New Horizons already has covered more than 3 billion miles since it launched on Jan. 19, 2006. Its journey has taken it past each planet’s orbit, from Mars to Neptune, in record time, and now it’s now in the first stage of an historic encounter with Pluto that includes long-distance imaging, as well as dust, energetic particle and solar wind measurements to characterize the space environment near Pluto.
The spacecraft will pass Pluto at a speed of 31,000 mph taking thousands of images and making a wide range of science observations. At a distance of nearly 4 billion miles from Earth at flyby, it will take approximately 4.5 hours for data to reach Earth.
The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) manages the New Horizons mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), is the principal investigator. SwRI leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. APL designed, built and operates the spacecraft for NASA.

To find out more information about how to participate in the Pluto naming contest, visit:

Detailed IAU guidelines for acceptable names submissions are available online at:

For images and updates on the July 14 Pluto flyby, visit: and

New Explorers on the Ballot, April 2

posted Apr 1, 2015, 10:44 PM by Mark Showalter

We have added three new historic explorers to the ballot today. Keep those great ideas coming in! I have been learning so much.

Map of Europe, Asia and North Africa by Al-Idrisi
Several people nominated the renowned 10th-century explorer and cartographer Muhammad al-Idrisi. He traveled as far west as Ireland and as far east as China, mapping much of the known world in the process. His exquisite maps were still being used centuries later. The title of his compendium of geographic information roughly translates from the Arabic as The Pleasure of Him Who Longs to Cross the Horizons. How appropriate it will be for a spacecraft named New Horizons to memorialize his work!

We also learned about for Hyecho, a Korean Buddhist monk who lived in the 8th century. The nomination from East Asia reads as follows:  Hyecho was the first man to travel across the Asian continent, from far east to far west, by sea and land and to record his journey. He wrote a travelogue, consisting of originally 11,300 characters, called Memoir of the pilgrimage to the five kingdoms of India during his journey. The work of Hyecho offers a full account of a long journey that lasted four years spanning 9,000 kilometers in distance by ship, and 11,000 kilometers by land. To this day, It is praised as a valuable archeological and anthropological reference for its unprecedentedly comprehensive scope and depth. 
Looking back to the way home under the reflection of moonlight
I see only the clouds floating 
Though a letter was sent on a cloud
a gusty wind blows away its answer
                                   -Hyecho (704-787 CE)

Finally, this is the nomination for a remarkable woman named Isabella Bird
Born in Yorkshire England in 1831 she holds a special place in history. Isabella was the first woman to be elected Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. Isabella battled with ill health all her life. However this did not stop her traveling the world and writing many incredible books about her travels. She visited Australia, Hawaii, America (where she traveled over 800 miles on horseback and met some very interesting characters including one-eyed outlaw Jim Nugent "Rocky Mountain Jim"). Battling ill health she went traveling to Asia: Japan, China, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia. At nearly 60 years of age she set off for India covering Ladakh on the borders of Tibet, and then travelled in Persia, Kurdistan and Turkey. In India, she worked with Fanny Jane Butler to found the John Bishop Memorial Hospital in memory of her recently deceased husband. The following year she joined a group of British soldiers traveling between Baghdad and Tehran. She remained with the unit's commanding officer during his survey work in the region, armed with her revolver and a medicine chest supplied – in possibly an early example of corporate sponsorship – by Henry Wellcome's company in London. By now Isabella was a household name in the Royal Geographical Society. Her final great journey took place in 1897 where she travelled up the Yangtze and Han rivers which are in China and Korea, respectively. Later still, she went to Morocco, where she travelled among the Berbers and had to use a ladder to mount her black stallion, a gift from the Sultan. She died in Edinburgh within a few months of her return in 1904, just shy of her seventy-third birthday. She was still planning another trip to China. What an amazing achievement for a person who battled with severe illness her entire life. Horizons exploration of Pluto should give credit to this amazing explorer by having a piece of Pluto named after her.
We agree.

Nomination Highlights, 28 March

posted Mar 29, 2015, 10:14 AM by Mark Showalter

We continue to receive a fascinating collection of nominees. Here are a few that we recently added to the ballot.

Gustave Dore printSeveral 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.

From Europe, we received a nomination for a fictional explorer: "Lāčplēsis is a name of a fictional character who had explored the Latvian land, as well as became a hero to his people. It's story is quite difficult and long, based on local legends and stories. But this character is the most important in Latvian culture, not only because of his hero characteristics, but also due to the aspiration for the science and early astronomical discoveries."

From North America came a nomination for a fictional vessel: "Prydwen is the ship that carried King Arthur into the Otherworld, the haunted land of spirits, gods and the dead, in the ancient Welsh poem Preiddeu Annwfn. The title translates to The Spoils of Annwfn (the Otherworld). Arthur, in the poem, was raiding the Otherworld for a mystical cauldron which may or may not be the precursor to the Holy Grail. It's a strange, dark and difficult poem, but the name straddles both the fictional vessels category and the Underworld categories. It has a solid mythological background and represents a pantheon—the Welsh-Celtic myths—that's lacking in our current solar system naming scheme."

Michal Boym wildlife drawing
In the category of historical explorers, we learned about the Polish scientist 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 us 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."
Altamira cave drawing of a bison

The "Travelers to the Underworld" theme has provided a particularly diverse range of nominees. Although this theme dates back thousands of years, at least to the Epic of Gilgamesh, it shows up in modern literature as well. "Lyra Belacqua is the female protagonist from Philip Pullman's Northern Lights trilogy. Only 12 when the story starts she is stubborn, resourceful and not one to kowtow to authority. In book 2, she makes a perilous journey to the Land of the Dead undergoing great pain at being separated from her daemon Pantalaimon. Together with her friend Will they must work to stabilise the universe by shutting down all inter dimensional windows and in the process sacrificing their love and friendship as they must stay  apart in their respective parallel dimensions. I think Lyra would be a great character to name a feature after. She's an all too rare example of a strong female protagonist and after her adventures in Northern Lights she grows up to become a scientist, writing a dissertation called 'Developments of patterns of trade in the European Arctic region with particular reference to independent balloon carriage (1950–1970)'! If we want to encourage girls to grow up to be scientists Lyra is great role model! Her's is a story of bravery, loyalty, of not being afraid to make very difficult decisions, the pursuit of knowledge, and self sacrifice for the good of humanity."

Finally, a New Jersey professor provided a very powerful justification for his nomination 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."

From the New Horizons Principal Investigator

posted Mar 26, 2015, 12:55 PM by Unknown user

I'm really excited about the opportunity we've been able to provide, partnering with NASA and the IAU, for you, the public, to share in the excitement of mapping Pluto by contributing to our name nominations databank and by voting for your favorite nominations. 

As the mission Principal Investigator, I thought I'd tell you about my favorite themes (after all, everybody has their favorites!). 

Mine are the ones that honor the explorers of land, sea, and sky (including space!) and previous space missions and spacecraft. Why those? Because New Horizons is very much a mission of exploration, and has so many times been called the capstone of the first era of reconnaissance of the planets of our solar system. As such, I think that it's both right, and it's romantic, to honor the space missions and the space mission pioneers and scientists who helped shape the wonderful first era of planetary reconnaissance with names on features on Pluto, this farthest shore and capstone of early planetary reconnaissance.

My least favorite themes involve the underworld. Why? Because I think these sadden Pluto and its moons as places, and focus on negatives like death, dying, haunting, and terror, rather than positives like human exploration.

You might agree with me, or you might not. If you do, I hope you'll nominate and vote in the categories I particularly like. And if you don't, vote and nominate anyway.

We want to hear your ideas!

Nomination Highlights, 25 March

posted Mar 26, 2015, 11:54 AM by Mark Showalter

We continue to receive some fantastic nominations. The ballots have been updated with a new round of additions. Here are a few highlights.

blink comparator
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."

We also learned about space missions by Sweden and Hungary.

A number of contributors reminded us of the importance of the historic traveler Juan Sebastián Elcano. Whereas Ferdinand Magellan is remembered as the captain of the first ship to circumnavigate the globe, he actually died in the Philippines, only part way through the journey. Elcano took command of the expedition and successfuly finished the journey.

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."

Jeanne Barre portrait
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.
Don Quijote

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.

Korean mythology brings us a new story of a traveler to the Underworld. "Gangrim Doryeong is an underworld traveler famous in Korean mythology. He is sent to the underworld to capture Yeomra (at that time the King of the Underworld) in order to discover the cause of certain mysterious deaths in the mortal realm. When Gangrim Doryeong  returned to his village with Yeomra, Yeomra asked the village official if he wanted to keep Gangrim's body or soul. The official claimed his body; Gangrim's soul, therefore, descended to the Underworld where  he replaced Yeomra as the death god, reaping dead souls and bringing them to the underworld."

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