Nearly three years post to the NASA’s New Horizons deep space probe created its historic flyby of Pluto, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has released the initial list of the official names for the features on the face of the dwarf planet’s biggest moon, Charon. Approved by the IAU Working Group for the Planetary System Nomenclature, it consists of the names proposed by the New Horizons team and pays tribute to futurists, explorers, and fictional characters.
Discovered in the year 1978 by the U.S. Naval Observatory, Charon is the biggest of the five moons of Pluto and is half the size of Pluto and only one-eighth of its mass, with a surface that is dominated by a mixture of water, ice, and frozen ammonia. On 14th July 2015, the unmanned New Horizons probe flew past it at a 27,000 km distance while traveling at a speed of 14 km/sec prior to heading into Kuiper Belt as it shot towards the interstellar space.
The new names were given by the New Horizons team lead by Dr. Alan Stern and involved suggestions solicited from the general public via the Our Pluto campaign. They were approved by IAU that is an international body founded in the year 1919 and is recognized generally as the official arbiter of the astronomical names. In accordance with the IAU, the new names honor human exploration, explorers and scientists, travelers, pioneering journeys, and mysterious destinations taken from history, mythology, and literature.
Some of the new names in the list include- Argo Chasma that is named for the ship sailed by Jason and the Argonauts, in the epic Latin poem Argonautica, Butler Mons that honours Octavia E. Butler, the very first science fiction writer to win a MacArthur fellowship, Clarke Montes, that honours Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction writer and futurist whose short stories and novels were imaginative depictions of the space exploration, Caleuche Chasma that is named for the mythological ghost ship which travels the seas around the small island of Chiloé, off the coast of Chile, Kubrick Mons that honors film director Stanley Kubrick, whose 2001: A Space Odyssey narrates the story of humanity’s evolution, Pirx Crater that is named for the main character in a range of short stories by Stanislaw Lem, who travels in between the Moon, Earth, and Mars, and Dorothy Crater that recognizes the protagonist in the series of the children’s novels, by L. Frank Baum which follows Dorothy Gale’s travels to and adventures in the magical world of Oz.
On 1st January 2019, New Horizons would visit Ultima Thule that is the distant Kuiper Belt object even called MU69.