William Shatner is the ultimate Renaissance man: actor, singer, horseman, Priceline pitchman, Oscar ceremony co-host, a Dad Who Says $#*!, and now a would-be namer of astronomical bodies. Yep, the man forever known as Captain Kirk has spearheaded a write-in campaign on the website plutorocks.com, run by the SETI Institute of Mountain View, Calif., to name one of the two new moons discovered in the past couple years to orbit Pluto. His choice for one of the 20-mile-wide rocks? You guessed it: Vulcan, after the homeworld of Star Trek’s famously logical, pointy-eared race of the same name.
And with Starfleet’s favorite son leading the charge, Vulcan quickly won the vote. “174,062 votes [out of nearly 450,000 cast] and Vulcan came out on top of the voting for the naming of Pluto's moons. Thank you to all who voted!" Shatner tweeted. Leonard Nimoy, who as Spock is probably Vulcan’s best known ambassador, told the Associated Press, “If my people were emotional they would say they are pleased.”
But don’t go practicing your split-fingered Vulcan salute or reading up on the collected works of the logician Surak just yet. The International Astronomical Union has the final say on the naming of the moons. But here’s what could go in Vulcan’s favor. First, designating one of the rocks Vulcan follows in the tradition of naming planetary bodies after figures from Greek or Roman mythology, since Vulcan was the Roman god of the forge. He was also a nephew to Pluto, god of the underworld, and astronomers have often tried to show a connection between a planet and its moons via those kinds of relationships—hence why Pluto’s largest and best-known moon, Charon, is named after the ferryman who steers departed souls across the river Styx into the underworld.
Oh yes, Styx was the second runner-up in the vote tally. But come on, whenever you hear the name Styx in regard to the moon won’t you just suddenly be filled with the overwhelming urge to break out singing “Come Sail Away”? Don’t get me wrong. I love the ‘70s rock-opera gods. But I can’t help but feel that a so-called Star-Burns from Greendale Community College, a Styx fan so committed that he will leave his record collection to no one upon his death because that’s who appreciated Styx as much as him, is behind this campaign.
The other possible contender, and first runner-up, is Cerberus, named after the three-headed dog that guarded the Underworld…and at times, inexplicably, the Philosopher’s Stone. Cerberus was also the Dharma Initiative’s name for the smoke monster on Lost, so there’s another reason not to name a moon that.
The fact is, Vulcan is the perfect choice because it fits the Roman mythology bill and is an archetypal touchstone in the modern sci-fi geekdom that makes people interested in stuff like moon-naming contests in the first place. Yes, the asteroids that orbit closest to the sun are already called “vulcanoids,” but would anyone really be confused by that? Considering how rough things have been for the Vulcan people in recent years—being painted as shifty and menacing on Star Trek: Enterprise, having their planet outright destroyed in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek film—it’s time we throw them a bone. If the IAU officially agrees to name one of the moons Vulcan, here’s one Star Trek fan who will be wishing them a hearty “Live Long and Prosper.”
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
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