Gallifrey is actually on Charon, the largest of Pluto’s five moons. A large dark region on Charon has been dubbed Gallifrey Macula, after the Doctor’s fictional home planet. And a neighboring rift is now called Tardis Chasma by the team that sent their robotic probe flying past Pluto on 14 July. The large dark red spot on its pole is believed to be the frozen, condensed remnants of what was once Pluto’s siphoned-off atmosphere.
A large number of features on Charon are now named after fictional characters from science fiction. A large plain on Charon has been labelled Vulcan Planum, and craters within it given the names Kirk, Spock, Sulu and Uhura, from Star Trek. Other craters on Charon are now called Skywalker, (Leia) Organa and Vader after leading characters in Star Wars, while another has the name Ripley, from Alien. Darth Vader’s crater is appropriately darker than the others.
Others to be honored include Stanley Kubrick, who made the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Douglas Adams, who wrote The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
On Pluto itself, several features have been named after important spacecraft, including two hills now known as Challenger Colles and Columbia Colles in memory of the two space shuttles that were destroyed in flight, killing 14 astronauts. On the dark southern pole of Pluto is a large bleak largely featureless region called the Cthulu Regio, and another called Balrog Regio. A large crater is now dubbed Burney after 11-year-old English girl Venetia Burney who suggested Pluto for the distant world when it was first spotted in 1930.
A mountain range is being called Hillary Montes, in honor of Sir Edmund Hillary, who led the first expedition to the summit of Everest in 1952, and another range of mountains is being named after his Nepalese sherpa, Tenzing Norgay.
The new names were some of the most popular choices in a public campaign organised by NASA, in conjunction with the International Astronomical Union. The IAU, which officially regulates astronomical names, must now ratify the decisions, but this should be just a formality.
The worlds of science and imagination collide spectacularly in one of Mankind’s greatest achievements, each inspiring the other. We think the best is yet to come.
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