Fun names on Pluto

Informal names for features on Pluto
Pluto-Map-Annotated” by JPL/NASA

Sorry for the hiatus: I got overtired and had a lurgy. Now that I have a bit of time and energy, I went to see what’s been happening with the New Horizons fly-by of Pluto. The space craft zipped by the dwarf planet over a month ago, but while it was passing, it was too busy taking photos and measurements to send much back to Earth. Then NASA and JPL take some time to process the data. Then I was mad busy setting up the La Palma blog again, followed by a ton of guiding work and then I was ill for a couple of days. So I’ve only just been able to catch up with Pluto.

My goodness I missed some geeky fun. That giant heart is probably nitrogen ice, flowing like glaciers on Earth. The thin atmosphere is only 1/10,000th as dense at the surface as Earth’s and it’s 98% nitrogen. And it’s floating off into space on the solar wind – so why isn’t Pluto running out of atmosphere? There isn’t enough coming in from comets, and the craters from comet impacts aren’t exposing nitrogen from under the surface either. The current working theory is that geological activity on Pluto is bring it to the surface. It’s only two months since they thought that Pluto couldn’t possibly have any geological activity, because it’s too small.

But the bit I really enjoyed was the names for the new features. Of course they needed lots of names, but my favourites are the craters Skywalker, Leia Organa, Vader, Ripley, Kirk, Spock, Uhura, and Sulu, the Balrog Macula (a macula is an unusually dark areas on the surface of a planet or moon) and the Cthulhu Regio (the dark, whale-like shape to the left of the famous heart). Pluto’s biggest moon Charon has the craters Skywalker, Leia Organa, Vader, Ripley, Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Sulu and Kubrick, plus the Gallifrey Macula and the Mordor Macula.

Just what I needed to cheer me up after being ill.

Map of informal names for features on Charon
Charon-Map-Annotated” by JPL/NASA

Posted by sheila

Sheila came to La Palma with a six month contract and has stayed 24 years so far. She used to work as a software engineer at the observatory, but now she's a writer and Starlight guide.

This article has 1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.