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Pluto's craters could get Star Trek names

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Second, the IAU said that "Vulcan" didn't fit in with the mythological underworld theme that guided the naming of Pluto's four other moons. Kerberos is the name of the three-headed canine that guards the gates to Hades, and Styx is the name of the river that separates the worlds of the living and the dead, as well as the name of the goddess who guards that river.

Pluto's other moons are named Charon, Nix, and Hydra. Charon is the ferryman who transports the souls of the dead across the Styx; Nix is the goddess of the night who lives in a deep abyss in the underworld, and Hydra is a many-headed serpent who guards a lake that is an entrance to Hades.

So no Vulcan. The name is at once too familiar and insufficiently hellish. But, as the SETI institute's Showalter noted, its still possible that Star Trek fans might get a few craters named for their spacefaring heroes.

And yet, those craters are currently just as hypothetical as Vulcan and the Vulcanoids. There's no reason to believe that Pluto doesn't have them; indeed, it would be surprising if the dwarf planet turned out to be as smooth as a cue ball. But nobody has ever actually seen a Plutonian pockmark.

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.

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. 

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