NASA
Pluto and some of its moons, from the Hubble Telescope in July 2013.

See Ex-Planet Pluto and Its Newly Named Moons; Sorry, No 'Vulcan'

ICTMN Staff
7/6/13

Enigmatic Pluto, once considered the ninth planet of our solar system but relegated to dwarf status in 2006, is paying us as much a visit this month as it ever does. And its five moons, the latest two discovered just recently, now all have names, as of Tuesday July 2. (Related: Far Beyond the Warmth of Venus, Icy Pluto Boasts Five Moons)

The latest additions to the Pluto fold, first noticed by astronomers in 2010 and 2011, have been named Kerberos and Styx. Although fans of Star Trek lobbied fiercely to get one of them dubbed Vulcan, the International Astronomical Union decreed that each name had to come from Roman or Greek mythology.

“Moon No. 4 is now Kerberos, after the many-headed dog that guarded the entrance to the underworld in Greek mythology, The New York Times reported. “Moon No. 5 is Styx, named for the river that souls had to cross over to get to Hades, or the underworld, and the goddess who ruled over it.”

The naming comes just as Pluto pays us a visit. On Monday July 1 it was at opposition to the sun, meaning it was exactly opposite the sun in the celestial sphere and thus as visible as it ever gets from Earth. It is small and icy enough that it’s not visible to the naked eye, so it takes a large telescope to spot it. But it’s there for the viewing for most of July.

“Don’t expect Pluto to look like much,” says Universetoday.com. “Like asteroids and quasars, part of the thrill of spotting such a dim speck lies in knowing what you’re seeing. Currently located just over 31 Astronomical Units (AUs) distant, tiny Pluto takes over 246 years to orbit the sun. In fact, it has yet to do so once since its discovery by Clyde Tombaugh from the Lowell observatory in 1930.”

Other hard-to-spot, far-flung planets on view this month are Uranus and Neptune, which appear near the end of July, according to Space.com. Magnificent Saturn, for one, will rise just after sunset and set around midnight throughout the month. (Related: Saturn, Ready for Its Closeup)

And Neptune, even farther away than Saturn, is in the constellation Aquarius through July. It will rise in the late evening and be visible for the entire night, Space.com says.

On Tuesday July 30, at dawn, a pair of binoculars will net you a glimpse of Mercury, Mars and Jupiter about half an hour before sunrise, according to Space.com. 

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