My new column for the Visual Thesaurus—yes, the second one in a week!—is inspired by the spectacular new images of Pluto sent by the space probe New Horizons. In the column, I investigate the origins of Plutonian lingo, including flyby, Ralph and Alice, Charon (Pluto’s largest moon), plutonium, and plutoed.
Access to both of my recent columns is free and unrestricted, so share away. Here’s an excerpt from the Pluto column:
Mordor, Cthuhlu, Meng-Po’o, and Tombaugh Regio. What sounds like the title of a Jorge Luis Borges short story is in fact a partial list of informal names for newly discovered features on Pluto and Charon. (Formal names must be approved by the International Astronomical Union, but as one project scientist tweeted, “Cannot just say ‘that dark spot.’ ‘No I meant that dark spot.’”) Many of them are drawn from “your darkest imaginings,” as the science blog i09 put it—and consistent with the established names of Pluto’s moons, including Styx (in Greek myth, the river of death), Cerberus (the three-headed hellhound that guards the underworld), and Nix (the Greek goddess of night). The new names depart from classical mythology and enter fictional realms: The dark area at Charon’s polar region, for example, has been tagged Mordor, from the wasteland in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. On Pluto itself, an area originally dubbed “the whale” is now called Cthuhlu, after the fictional deity invented by H.P. Lovecraft; and Meng Po’o is the Buddhist “lady of forgetfulness.” An exception to the pattern is the Tombaugh Regio—literally “region of Tombaugh”—which honors Pluto’s discoverer, Clyde Tombaugh. For a long list of Plutonian names suggested by the public, see the Our Pluto discussion forum.
Read the rest of “The Lingo of Pluto: New Horizons, New Words.”
Blog bonus #1:
Randall Munroe of xkcd offers his own nomenclature for newly identified Plutonian features. I especially like Debate Hole, “where we’re putting all the people still arguing about Pluto’s planet status.”
Blog bonus #2:
Writing for “Out There,” the New York Times’s space and cosmos column, Dennis Overbye called New Horizons’ photos “a cosmic selfie.” But Jason Feifer, deputy editor of Maxim, says the photos aren’t selfies at all; he demands a correction. (Here’s the exchange that followed.)
Blog bonus #3:
“We’re like inmates in an asylum. It’s bedlam.” New York Times video of the scene at New Horizons mission control in Maryland.
Blog bonus #4: