With the New Horizons mission providing NASA and the rest of the world with incredibly detailed images of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, the time has come for scientists to put names to some of those previously unknown surface features.
The New Horizons team will submit maps to the International Astronomical Union (which is the official governing body for names of celestial objects) that will include nods not only to mythology, but also to today’s geek culture at large. And there are plenty of references to movies, TV series and books taken from Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, The Lord of the Rings, Firefly, Alien and even the wonderfully dark world of H.P. Lovecraft.
NASA called out to the public back in April, asking them to submit potential names for the newly revealed landscapes, but in accordance with IAU guidelines. For example, Pluto is limited to underworld mythological figures, as well as scientists, writers and engineers that are associated with Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. Charon has a much broader selection to choose from since the IAU allows names from "destinations and milestones of fictional space," including fictional spaceships, voyagers and explorers.
So, pending IAU approval, Pluto might end up with the Cthulhu Region and the Balrog and Morgoth Maculas (or dark spots). For Charon we not only have the Mordor Macula — but also craters named after Star Trek‘s Capt. Kirk, Mr. Spock, Mr. Sulu and Lt. Uhura (all of them situated on the Vulcan Plain), Alien’s Ellen Ripley (there's also the Nostromo Chasm) and Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa and their dad, Darth Vader. For Doctor Who fans, there’s the Gallifrey Macula, with the Tardis Chasm running across it.
Chatting with Mashable, New Horizons planetary scientist Mark Showalter said the odds were good that the IAU will sign off on the names submitted, as they did approve Frodo and Bilbo from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings as features on Saturn’s moon Titan, after all. "The IAU tends to favor names that have been around for a while," he said, "but Star Trek is almost 50 years old now, and Star Wars is about 40 years old."
Check out the maps submitted to the IAU in the gallery below, and chime in on your favorite geektastic name.