Pluto's craters could get Star Trek names
Even though 'Vulcan' has been rejected as the name of one of Pluto's recently discovered moons, an astronomer has left open the possibility of naming some of Pluto's geographical features after Star Trek characters.
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That's because the sharpest images we have of Pluto were snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope a decade ago. The Hubble's cameras, impressive as they are, can only capture surface variations on the frozen dwarf planet that are more than a few hundred miles across.Skip to next paragraph
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We'll probably soon be getting much crisper images, though, thanks to a NASA probe launched in 2006. Designed to study the icy worlds at the edge of our solar system, the New Horizons spacecraft is currently hurtling through space at more than 30,000 miles per hour, some 2.3 billion miles from Earth. It is about half a billion miles away from Pluto, where it is expected to perform a flyby in July 2015.
When New Horizons is about six months away from Pluto, it will be close enough to provide us with the clearest shots yet of the world's surface, along with the opportunity to name its geological features after Kirk, Picard, Spock, Data, Scotty, and perhaps even the seriously underrated Lt. Reginald Barclay.
This would be unlikely to satisfy the original Kirk, however. Upon learning that the best he and his fan base could expect are the bitter dregs of the Pluto system, William Shatner took to his Twitter account to sound off:
"Did you hear the consolation?" wrote Mr. Shatner. "They may name a crater after Kirk. A pockmark on a planetoid is a fitting tribute? (Rolling my eyes.)"
During the Google hangout, Showalter left open the possibility that a planet outside our solar system could still be christened Vulcan.
"I think the IAU is still grappling with the whole issue of how to name extra-solar planets, so I wouldn't rule it out," he said. "But I think the fact that everybody in our field actually knows what Vulcan is, means that it's something we should think twice about before we use it as a name for something else."
But even if Spock's homeworld is never honored, there are plenty of other Star Trek planets out there. According to the Extrasolar Planet Encyclopedia, as of July 1 there are 900 confirmed planets outside our solar system. That's about 100 more than all the planets mentioned in the Star Trek universe – from Acamar III, a war-torn planet near the Romulan Neutral Zone, to Zytchin III, where Capt. Picard once took a rather unremarkable vacation.
An exoplanet named for a Star Trek planet other than Vulcan – perhaps the most fully realized alien planet in the entire franchise – probably wouldn't placate Trekkers, though. But on the plus side, there would be little risk that J.J. Abrams would blow it up.
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