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Monday, February 11, 2013

Naming Pluto's Moons

This morning, checking my email from my sick bed, I found this in my cyber-letterbox of the Andromeda Spaceways list.  The person requesting is Simon Petrie, author of the recent dual-novella book Flight 404/The Hunt For Red Leicester. I have already voted. It seems to me that after all those years we knew there were nine planets in the solar system, and now, without any consultation, suddenly there are only eight, at the very least it would be nice if we could have a hand in naming Pluto's moons. The web site is linked to SETI. 

"I have a slightly unusual request ...

Please help me name Pluto's fourth moon. I'd like it to be called 'Erebus'. It's important that 'Erebus' is the name chosen for it, so as not to spoil a story I had published last year.

They're also looking for a name for the fifth moon. I don't care what that gets called, it can be called any old thing for all I care, I didn't write about it. But I'd like the fourth moon to wind up with the name Erebus, if it's at all possible. The dignity of my first pro sale depends on it.

For those who want the long story ... 

In June 2011 a team at the SETI institute, led by Mark Showalter, discovered Pluto's fourth moon (and, a year or so later, its fifth moon). The two objects are still waiting for names. In September 2011 I found out about a competition to write a story using a scientific discovery made within the last 12 months, and I chose Pluto's fourth moon as the kernel around which to wrap my entry. I needed an underworld-themed name for Moon 4, and 'Erebus' struck me as a likely contender. ('Cerberus' is another likely choice, but there's already an asteroid of that name.) Three days before I finished the story, the contest folded ... so I decided to try out the story elsewhere. The thing you need to realise here is that astronomical objects are normally named fairly promptly, within just a few months of discovery, so I figured any place that took the story would not get around to publishing it before the moon's real name had been finalised. I was wrong. Redstone SF, the second or third place I sent the story, took it, and it appeared in their August 2012 issue, just before they went into hiatus. The name had still not been finalised by the astronomical community, so my original placeholder/best guess of 'Erebus' stayed in the story.

Now Mark Showalter, the leader of the team that discovered the fourth and fifth moons, is holding an Internet competition to see what the most popular names are, from a list of about a dozen underworld-themed names, and 'Erebus' is one of those names ... you can vote between now and Monday Feb 25th, once per day if you feel like it, to make your voice heard. The link's at the top of the email, but in case that doesn't work, the url is: If you choose to vote for 'Erebus' and for one other name on the list, you'd make a struggling SF writer very happy.

(Oh, and if you're willing / able to signal-boost this entirely self-serving request, I'd be eternally grateful.)

Cheers, Simon"

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