Spaceflight Insider

IAU approves names for features on Charon

A map projection of Charon, the largest of Pluto’s five moons, annotated with its first set of official feature names. With a diameter of about 755 miles (1,215 kilometers), the France-sized moon is one of largest known objects in the Kuiper Belt, the region of icy, rocky bodies beyond Neptune. Image Credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has accepted a list of names for features on Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, submitted by NASA’s New Horizons mission team. All names submitted by the mission team came from a public campaign known as “Our Pluto,” which sought nominations and votes for suggested names in an online campaign before the July 2015 Pluto flyby.

Organized jointly by the New Horizons mission, the SETI Institute, and the IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature, the public campaign drew more than 40,000 submissions from countries around the world. Themes chosen for naming features on Charon included fictional explorers and travelers; fictional origins and destinations; fictional vessels; and exploration authors, artists, and directors.

Many of the top-vote-getting names have been informally used by the New Horizons team since 2015 for Charon’s valleys, crevices, craters, and other geological features. Fourteen names for locations on Pluto, also selected from winners of the Our Pluto campaign, were approved by the IAU last September.

Charon is the largest of Pluto’s five moons. Because Pluto and Charon orbit a center of gravity, known as a barycenter, between them and outside of Pluto, some planetary scientists consider Pluto-Charon to be a binary system with four moons rather than a planet or dwarf planet with five moons.

Nix, Hydra, Styx, and Kerberos, the system’s four small moons, orbit the barycenter between Pluto and Charon.

A public statement by the IAU announcing its acceptance of names for features on Charon credits the New Horizons team, especially principal investigator Alan Stern and science team members Mark Showalter, Ross Beyer, Will Grundy, William McKinnon, Jeff Moore, Cathy Olkin, Paul Schenk, and Amanda Zangari for facilitating approval of these names.

“I am pleased that the features on Charon have been named with international spirit,” said Rita Schulz, chair of the IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature.

She noted the selected names pay tribute to the spirit of human exploration, pioneering journeys, travelers, explorers, scientists, and mysterious destinations.

The following names were approved for features on Charon:

  • Argo Chasma is named for the ship sailed by Jason and the Argonauts, in the epic Latin poem Argonautica, during their quest for the Golden Fleece.
  • Butler Mons honours Octavia E. Butler, the first science fiction writer to win a MacArthur fellowship, and whose Xenogenesis trilogy describes humankind’s departure from Earth and subsequent return.
  • Caleuche Chasma is named for the mythological ghost ship that travels the seas around the small island of Chiloé, off the coast of Chile; according to legend, the Caleuche explores the coastline collecting the dead, who then live aboard it forever.
  • Clarke Montes honours Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the prolific science fiction writer and futurist whose novels and short stories (including 2001: A Space Odyssey) were imaginative depictions of space exploration.
  • Dorothy Crater recognizes the protagonist in the series of children’s novels, by L. Frank Baum, that follows Dorothy Gale’s travels to and adventures in the magical world of Oz.
  • Kubrick Mons honours film director Stanley Kubrick, whose iconic 2001: A Space Odyssey tells the story of humanity’s evolution from tool-using hominids to space explorers and beyond.
  • Mandjet Chasma is named for one of the boats in Egyptian mythology that carried the sun god Ra (Re) across the sky each day — making it one of the earliest mythological examples of a vessel of space travel.
  • Nasreddin Crater is named for the protagonist in thousands of humorous folktales told throughout the Middle East, southern Europe and parts of Asia.
  • Nemo Crater is named for the captain of the Nautilus, the submarine in Jules Verne’s novels Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) and The Mysterious Island (1874).
  • Pirx Crater is named for the main character in a series of short stories by Stanislaw Lem, who travels between the Earth, Moon and Mars.
  • Revati Crater is named for the main character in the Hindu epic narrative Mahabharata — widely regarded as the first in history (circa 400 BC) to include the concept of time travel.
  • Sadko Crater recognizes the adventurer who traveled to the bottom of the sea in the medieval Russian epic Bylina.




Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.

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