Now that the New Horizons mission has provided NASA with the most detailed images yet of Pluto and its largest moon Charon, it's time for scientists to put names to the previously unknown surface features. And things have gotten pretty nerdy.
Maps the New Horizons team will submit to the International Astronomical Union for approval include nods to mythology, naturally. But there are also shout-outs to Star Trek, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, Firefly, Alien and H.P. Lovecraft.
NASA actually put out a call in April, asking the public for submit potential names for the newly discovered landforms, in accordance with IAU guidelines. (For instance, Pluto's theme is limited to underworld mythological figures, and scientists, writers and engineers associated with Pluto and the Kuiper Belt; Charon's is more broad, with mythological and fictional space vessels, voyagers and explorers.)
That's how, pending AIU approval, Pluto ends up with the Cthulhu Region and the Balrog and Morgoth Maculas ("dark spots"), while Charon boasts not only the Mordor Macula, but also craters named after Star Trek's Kirk, Spock, Sulu and Uhura (all on the Vulcan Plain), Alien's Ellen Ripley and Star Wars' Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Darth Vader.
It doesn't stop there, however: There's the Gallifrey Macula, bisected by the Tardis Chasm, and Serenity and Macross Chasms (nods to Firefly and the classic anime franchise). There are also tributes to Alice in Wonderland, director Stanley Kubrick, and authors Douglas Adams, Arthur C. Clarke and Madeleine L’Engle.
Speaking with Mashable, New Horizons planetary scientist Mark Showalter said the odds are pretty good that the IAU will sign off on the names (after all, it approved Frodo and Bilbo as features on Saturn's moon Titan). ""The IAU tends to favor names that have been around for a while," he said, "but Star Trek is almost 50 years old now and Star Wars is about 40 years old."