Plutonian Names

Plutonian Names

For the first 85 years after its discovery, Pluto was a faceless world — an iceball too far away for us to see any of its features. The New Horizons spacecraft filled in those features when it flew past Pluto in 2015. It found mountains, ridges, and vast expanses of ice. And now, 11 of those features have names.

The names were bestowed by a committee of the International Astronomical Union. It adopted several names that were suggested by the New Horizons team. It also selected names recommended by members of the public in a contest.

The largest feature on Pluto is a heart-shaped region made of ice. The New Horizons team named it after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto, and the IAU accepted the name.

The brighter half of that feature was named the Sputnik Plains in honor of the first Earth-orbiting satellite, Sputnik 1, which was launched 60 years ago.

Two mountain ranges at the edge of that plain were named for Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay, the first men to climb Mount Everest and return safely.

Other features were named for characters and locations from the mythologies of several cultures, and for other missions of discovery. And a crater was named for Venetia Burney, the schoolgirl who suggested the name “Pluto” for the newly discovered world.

Many other features revealed in the New Horizons pictures are still to be named. When they are named, mapmakers can begin to fill in the details of this once-faceless world.

Script by Damond Benningfield


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