NASA’s New Horizons mission reinvigorated the general public’s interest in our solar system. The first images of Pluto and its moons have blown everyone away. Pluto’s terrain is so much more varied than anyone believed.

From mountains soaring above its icy surface.

Pluto mountains

To smooth plains hinting at geological activity.

nitrogen ice flows pluto

New Horizons also captured stunning images of Charon and its deep canyons.

Charon close up New Horizons

When the New Horizons team isn’t impressing us with up-close views of the Pluto system, they’re busy putting names to all the new features they can see. All the sci-fi fans out there are about to fall in love with Charon.

Vader crater? Yep, it’s a proposed name for one of Charon’s many craters. Other names include Spock Crater, Sulu Crater, Skywalker Crater, Serenity Chasma and more. Lord of the Rings is also getting some love with Mordor Macula at Charon’s north pole.

charon map names

Ok, these names are awesome – but what are the odds they become official? The odds are actually pretty good.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is the official governing body behind naming celestial objects. Here are there three naming rules for Charon:

Destinations and milestones of fictional space and other exploration. Mordor fits perfectly here.

Fictional and mythological vessels of space and other exploration. Serenity is good to go.

Fictional and mythological voyagers, travelers and explorers. Spock and Sulu should have no problem being approved.

There is precedent for Lord of the Rings names. Small hills on Saturn’s moon, Titan, have been named after characters from Middle Earth.

Fictional sci-fi characters were also used to name features on Titan. Features named after characters from the Foundation series (Isaac Asimov) and planets from the Dune series (Frank Herbert) dot Titan’s surface.

New Horizons Will Be Seeing Red Again on 2014 MU69

The odds are good names like Serenity Chasma, Vulcan Planum and Mordor Macula become official.

What about Pluto’s features? Here are the naming rules from the IAU:

Names from the Underworld from the world’s mythologies.

Gods, goddesses and dwarfs associated with the Underworld.

Heroes and other explorers of the Underworld.

Writers associated with Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

Scientists and engineers associated with Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

Tombaugh Regio, nicknamed the Heart, is named after Clyde Tombaugh – the astronomer who discovered Pluto. Other names of prominent features include Cthulhu Regio and Sputnik Planum.

Pluto map names

Here’s how the rest of the Pluto system’s features will be named.

Styx: river gods

Nix: deities of the night

Kerberos: dogs from literature, mythology and history

Hydra: legendary serpents and dragons. (I sense a Smaug feature coming).

You can see the trend used for naming all the features throughout the solar system. Gods, goddesses, prominent scientists and sci-fi/fantasy characters are most often used. There are a few outliers, though.

Did you know craters on the asteroid Gaspra are named after spas? Small craters on Mars (60 km and smaller) are named after small towns and villages with less than 100,000 people living in them.

Check out this page to see how the features of all the other planets in our solar system are named.

Image credits: NASA

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