Science & Technology

You Could Be the One to Name These Moons of Jupiter

Last July, astronomer Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science announced something you wouldn't think was still possible: he had discovered 12 new moons of Jupiter. Despite our gazing into the distant universe, it turns out that there are still plenty of surprises in our solar system. Now the Carnegie wants to bring you in on the action: It's holding a contest to come up with names for five of those newly announced moons. Got any in mind?

A Moon by Any Other Name

What we name moons — and planets, stars, comets, et cetera — has been governed by the International Astronomical Union, or IAU, since 1919. When a moon is first discovered, it gets a placeholder name starting with an S, then the year it was discovered, and its number in line behind all the other moons discovered that year. That's what the new Jovian (the adjective form of Jupiter) moons are currently named: things like S/2017 J4 and S/2018 J1.

Like any astronomical discovery, the moon's existence then needs to be confirmed by other scientists. That's already happened for these new moons. In fact, Sheppard and his team didn't announce their discovery until it was confirmed, and a few of the moons — like the oddball they call Valetudo — already have monikers as a result. Once the discovery has been confirmed, the discoverer gets to suggest (not choose!) a permanent name. The IAU gets the final say on the name, but they do give priority to the discoverer's suggestions.

There are many, many rules for what you can name a moon, which we'll get to below. But one thing that's fair game? Asking other people to give you ideas. That's why they've opened the process up to the public. After all, this is a lot of moons. They need all the help they can get.

Related Video: 12 New Moons of Jupiter Discovered

How to Name a Moon

If you've already decided to name the moons after the five original members of New Kids on the Block, slow your roll. Like we said, there are rules for these things. It's time to brush up on your Greek and Roman mythology, 'cause here goes:

  1. Because Jupiter is the king of the Roman Gods (and the analog to the Greek god Zeus), the moons must be named after descendants or lovers of Jupiter or Zeus. So names like Nemea (a minor goddess-nymph and the daughter of Zeus) or Maia (a lover of Jupiter) would be acceptable; Moony McMoonface would not.
  2. The name needs to be 16 characters or fewer, and preferably one word.
  3. It can't be too similar to the existing names of any moons or asteroids. You can check to see if your name is already in use here and here. And obviously, Jupiter's existing moons also count.
  4. The name can't be offensive (in any language or to any culture), nor can it be of a purely commercial nature.
  5. It can't be the name of a person, place, or event that's mainly known for political, military, or religious activities.
  6. It can't commemorate a living person.

But wait, there's more! There are also specific rules for the individual moons.

  • S/2003 J5, S/2003 J15, S/2003 J3 all spin in the opposite direction as Jupiter, so their names must end in an "e."
  • S/2017 J4 and S/2018 J1 both spin in the same direction as Jupiter, so their names must end in an "a."

Once you have your Jupiter- or Zeus-related name that isn't claimed by any other space objects and won't offend anybody, advertise anything, or commemorate something inappropriate, then and only then should you tweet it to @JupiterLunacy with the hashtag #NameJupitersMoons and explain why you chose the name. They'll also accept suggestions in video format!

You have until April 15 to get your suggestions in. Godspeed — or should we say Zeusspeed?

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Want to gaze into the clouds of Jupiter? You can with this 12-inch Jupiter Globe, which features images taken by the Cassini and Juno missions. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer March 25, 2019

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