March 2, 2013
Live Long And Tweet!
As redOrbit’s Lawrence LeBlond reports, the SETI Institute hosted a naming contest for P4 and P5 recently. Names were suggested, some rejected, and then the public was allowed to vote. This is where Twitter and Captain Kirk come in.
William Shatner tweeted to his 1.3 million fans, proposing the names of Vulcan and Romulus. In the Star Trek universe, Vulcan and Romulus are inhabited by “cousins,” of a sort. The Vulcan and Romulan peoples split apart into two “races” over the issue of logic vs. emotions. Vulcans, as portrayed by Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, are coldly logical and scientific, while Romulans are hotly emotional and aggressive. Shatner kept up his Twitter campaign all throughout the contest, urging his fans to rock the vote for Vulcan!
SETI rejected Romulus as a name because it is already the name of two celestial objects: the outer moon of the main-belt asteroid 87 Sylvia, and the Sun orbiting asteroid 10386 Romulus. Vulcan however made the cut.
Now, SETI says that it only allowed Vulcan based on its mythological connotations, and looking at the other names of the moons that might be true.
Charon: (pronounced Kare-on) is the ferryman in Greek mythology who carries the souls of the recent dead across the rivers Styx and Acheron to Hades.
Nix: Charon’s mother, the Greek goddess of darkness and night. She is also the mother of Hypnos (sleep) and Thanatos (death).
Hydra: The Hydra was a nine-headed swamp monster in ancient Greek legends that lived near Argos. Killing the Hydra was one of the 12 labors of Hercules.
Five names were put up for the vote and nearly 450,000 people chimed in. The winning names of the SETI contest were Vulcan (of course – 1.3 million Trekkies can’t be wrong) and Cerebrus. Hmmm…Cerebrus, Think the Harry Potter fans had anything to do with that?
In Roman mythology, Vulcan is the god of fire and the nephew of Pluto. He is depicted as a blacksmith, holding a hammer. He is also the god of volcanoes. I find this rather ironic, that a race of coldly logical aliens live on a planet named for the god of volcanoes and fire. That’s okay, their cousins the Romulans live on a planet named for the mythological founder of Rome who was raised by a wolf and killed his own twin. That seems a bit less ironic and more appropriate to me.
Cerebrus is both Greek and Roman. He is a three-headed dog, a hellhound, that guards the gates of the underworld to prevent anyone Charon has carried across the Styx from returning to the world of the living. In the world of HP fans, “Fluffy” is the three headed guard dog owned by Rubeus Hagrid. Fluffy has a problem staying awake when you play music.
Yes, before you ask, I am a Trekkie. I have watched every rendition of the show, all the movies, attended sci-fi conventions and wanted to grow up nearly as beautiful as the amazing Lt. Nyota Uhura played by Nichelle Nichols. (Just to prove what a Trekkie I am, I didn’t even have to look up those names or the spellings.) So I am thrilled to my fangirl heart to know that Vulcan might become a real place in our solar system.
Notice, though, that I said it was possible the name would stick. SETI isn’t bound to follow the contest results for names. They promised to consider the names that won, but never said they would stick to them. And even if SETI agrees, then the name has to get past the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The IAU has the final say in naming celestial bodies.
The other choices in the top five were Styx, Persephone, and Orpheus.
Even if the naming doesn’t go our way, the message here is clear. Twitter is a powerful tool for motivating the masses, and Shatner is a master at energizing his fans.
Image Credit: Sergii Figurnyi / Shutterstock