More Names for Pluto and Charon Surface Features

The scientists at JPL/NASA have released their first list of informal place names for features on the dwarf planet Pluto and its largest satellite Charon, all courtesy of the New Horizons space probe which passed through the Pluto system two weeks ago. While all of the names so far announced are “informal” (meaning, they are terms that have not been officially suggested and put forward to the IAU Nomenclature Committee), it is highly likely that most – if not all – will eventually become official.

First off, Pluto:


Pluto’s place names are all being drawn from either explorers (who haven’t already been honored with a named object elsewhere in the solar system) or with mythical dieties or lands relating to death or the underworld. And as the previously mentioned Cthulhu Regio indicates, NASA is choosing to use considerable leeway as to choosing appelations they feel are appropriate (note also the inclusion of “Balrog”, from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien).

And now… Charon:

charon names 2

Charon’s names are being drawn almost exclusively from “fantastical myth and literature”, and boy are they taking advantage of the opportunity. Names from the Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly, Alien, Doctor Who franchises abound. There’s even at least one anime reference (Macross Chasma, after the title ship from Space Fortress Macross/Robotech I), and arguably a second in Argo Chasma (“Argo” was the name used for the title ship Space Cruiser Yamato in its English translation, Star Blazers). The naming scheme on Charon seems to be that space ships get “chasmas” (canyons), fictional characters get craters, and people who actually lived get “mons” (mountains).

As a side note, one of the reasons why I think Argo Chasma is indeed a reference to Space Cruiser Yamato is because in Yamato I, the Yamato actually visits Pluto and even shoots its anchor into “Pluto’s moon” – thereby making it the first media depiction ever of any moon of Pluto (it was also a bit of prescient storytelling, seeing as the episode in question was made in 1974 and Charon wasn’t discovered until 1978).

Keep in mind, these are just the first, initial maps. Most of the data has yet to be downloaded from New Horizons, and there are still whole regions for which any images have yet to be retrieved. So once again, expect more in the coming months.

And don’t be surprised if in the next few weeks there is announced a Setsuna Meioh (Sailor Pluto) crater somewhere on either body…

Pluto New Horizons Update – My Favorite New Place Name

The scientists at JPL are assigning “unofficial” names to various features on Pluto, based on the images recieved from New Horizons. Most of these names will probably be submitted to the IAU Nomenclature Committee in due course, but in the meantime none of the names are considered anything more than provisional. But there’s at least one name I hope sticks.

If you were keeping track of New Horizons as it approached Pluto, you may remember a dark vaguely fish-shaped feature that some dubbed “The Whale”. Well, it has now been dubbed with a new name.  May I present to you… Cthulhu Regio:

cthulhu regio

Cthulhu Regio lies near Pluto’s equator just east of Tombaugh Regio (the so-called “Heart” of Pluto). It is approximately 2,990 kilometers long (1,860 miles), and is probably a much older feature than the adjacent, lighter plains of Tombaugh. Please note the splotchy area just to the right of Cthulhu in the image above.

trombaugh regio mountains

That’s Sputnik Planum and the mountain range now known as Hillary Mones.

Also released by NASA/JPL is an image of Pluto being eclipsed by the Sun.

pluto eclipse

We’re still weeks away from getting the bulk of New Horizons data packets. Most of it is still stored on the spaceship, awaiting the chance to download. Because New Horizons is so far away (signals take about 4 hours to arrive at Earth) and the transmitter is so slow, it will take most of the rest of the year to get everything. Even tho the close encounter is over, theres still much, much more to come.

But just remember… Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn. Cthulhu fhtagn! Cthulhu fhtagn!

My Hugo Awards Vote

Well, after weeks of reading and a fair amount of thought, I am finally ready to submit my final votes for this years Hugo Awards, to be awarded at Sasquan (WorldCon 73) in just a few weeks.

Here are my rankings:

Best Novel

  1. Skin Game, by Jim Butcher
  2. Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)
  3. The Dark Between the Stars, by Kevin J. Anderson
  4. Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie
  5. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

This was actually something of a hard decision, as I really liked Three Body Problem. But in the end, I gave it to Skin Game because, simply, I was more entertained by it (tho frankly, I expect Three Body Problem to win). The Dark Between the Stars was fine, but because its heavily based on KJA’s previous Saga of the Seven Suns series, I can understand why some would downgrade it – especially if they haven’t read that series. Ancillary Sword was better than last year’s Ancillary Justice, but I’m still finding that series mostly “meh”. The Goblin Emperior was the only book of the bunch I wasn’t all that thrilled with; its a palace procedural that wallows in the Byzantine mechanations of court politics, and not much else.

Best Novella

  1. Big Boys Don’t Cry, by Tom Kratman
  2. The Plural of Helen of Troy, by John C. Wright
  3. Flow, by Arlan Andrews, Sr.
  4. One Bright Star to Guide Them, by John C. Wright
  5. Pale Realms of Shade, by John C. Wright

Nothing much to say here except Tom Kratman’s story blew me away.  The rest were good but not as good.

Best Novelette

  1. The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale, by Rajnar Vajra
  2. The Journeyman in the Stone House, by Michael F. Flynn
  3. Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium, by Gray Rinehart
  4. Championship B’Tok, by Edward M. Lerner
  5. The Day the World Turned Upside Down, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

I’ve been reading Rajnar Vajra off and on in the pages of Analog for some time, and I’ve enjoyed everything he’s written. The others were generally fine, tho I did have a problem with “Championship B’Tok” as it frequently felt like the abridged version of a much longer story.

Best Short Story

  1. A Single Samuraii, by Steven Diamond
  2. Totaled, by Kary English
  3. The Parliament of Beasts and Birds, by John C. Wright
  4. Turncoat, by Steve Rzasa
  5. On a Spiritual Plain, by Lou Antonelli

Personally, I thought the choices in this catagory were a vast improvement over last years ballot, but were still overall the weakest of the literature nominations. The only real clunker to me was “On A Spiritual Plain”, which I frankly came close to ranking below No Award.

Best Related Work

  1. The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF, by Ken Burnside
  2. Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and the Awful Truth, by John C. Wright
  3. No Award

Best Graphic Story

  1. Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt
  2. Saga Volume 3, by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples
  3. No Award

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)

  1. Interstellar
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy
  3. Captain America: Winter Soldier
  4. Lego Movie
  5. Edge of Tomorrow

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

  1. The Flash: Pilot
  2. Doctor Who: Listen
  3. Game of Thrones: The Mountain and the Viper
  4. Grimm: Once We Were Gods
  5. No Award

Best Professional Editor (Short Form)

No vote (Didn’t know enough to feel comfortable voting in this catagory)

Best Professional Editor (Long Form)

  1. Toni Weisskopf
  2. No Award

I gave Toni Weisskopf a vote based on her fantastic work at Baen. But other than her, I know next to nothing about the editorial catagories and as such did not feel comfortable voting in them.

Best Professional Artist

No vote (Didn’t know enough to feel comfortable voting in this catagory)

Best Semiprozine

  1. Andromeda Spaceways
  2. Beneath Ceaseless Skies
  3. Abyss & Apex
  4. Lightspeed Magazine
  5. Strange Horizons

Best Fanzine

  1. Journey Planet
  2. Elitist Book Reviews
  3. The Revenge of Hump Day
  4. Tangent Online

Best Fancast

  1. The Sci Phi Show
  2. Adventures in SciFi Publishing
  3. Dungeon Crawlers Radio
  4. Tea and Jeopardy
  5. Galactic Suburbia

Best Fan Writer

  1. Dave Freer
  2. Amanda S. Green
  3. Cedar Sanderson
  4. Jeffro Johnson
  5. Laura J. Mixon

Best Fan Artist

No vote (Didn’t know enough to feel comfortable voting in this catagory)

John W. Campbell Award

  1. Jason Cordova
  2. Kary English
  3. Rolf Nelson
  4. Wesley Chu
  5. Eric S. Raymond

New Horizons at Pluto

As most everyone knows by now, the NASA/JPL’s New Horizons spacecraft passed by the dwarf planet Pluto six days ago. The images it has sent back are stunningly beautiful.

First off, Pluto itself (all images courtesy of NASA):


Notice anything odd about the surface? As in, what seems to be missing?

Craters. Lots and lots of craters. Thats whats missing.

Consider that Pluto lies at the inner edge of the Kuiper belt, an asteroid field probably larger and more populated than the more familiar asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Consider also that most other non-gaseous outer solar system objects have surfaces that are generally heavily cratered, due to the accumulated impacts of smaller objects over billions and billions of years. The fact that craters are so few here indicates that Pluto’s surface is probably relatively new, only a few hundred million years old. Which means, Pluto is more geologically active than we originally thought. Some process is causing the surface to renew itself, either through active vulcanism or possibly internal heating caused by tidal stress from Pluto and Charon’s orbital dance (remember, Pluto appears to be composed primarily of various ices; it wouldn’t take much heating to periodically melt the surface into a viscous slushie).

Some close up views of Pluto’s surface have also been released.

pluto ice mountains

Those are mountains, and they are composed almost entirely of water ice. They too cannot be more than a few hundred million years old, although it is probable that they are generally older than the smoother surfaces around them.

Moving on to Pluto’s principal moon, Charon:


Again, we’re seeing a general lack of heavy cratering, alhtough the surface here does appear to be more cratered than Charon’s parent planet.

Here’s a good image of the pair, showing once more their relative sizes:

pluto charon

The smaller moons of Pluto also recieved some attention during the flyby, but sadly they were all too far away for detailed images. These are probably the best images we’ll see for the satellites Nix and Hydra:


From what I gather, only about half of the data load that New Horizons recorded has been transmitted back to Earth. In fact, most of the really detailed images of Pluto taken during its closest approach haven’t arrived yet. New Horizons will be transmitting them over the next several weeks, so expect to see more images released in the coming month.

New Horizons will now fly on to another Kuiper Belt object, for an arrival sometime in 2019. There are two objects up for consideration, both of which are much smaller than either Pluto or Charon. A decision as to which of the two objects to target will be made in August, as New Horizons needs to start firing its engines no later than early September.

More details will follow as they become available.

Yes, I am alive.

I started my roadtrip and soon after discovered that my laptop was dead. When I finally arrived in Pasadena CA I took it to a tech, and the laptop has now been resuscitated (tho I am watching it warily). So for the moment I am once more operational.

I’ll be doing a roundup of New Horizons at Pluto soon, and then write ups of some of the various places I’ve been to on the way. I’m also finalizing my Hugo Awards votes before the deadline, and will probably augment those with some reviews. But for the most part, to those who are wondering, yes I am fine and no I have not abandoned this blog once more. You aren’t getting rid of me that easily.

Driveabout 2015

Driveabout: Its like going on Walkabout, but with air conditioning and without actually using your feet.

My boys and I are hitting the road starting this Friday. First destination will be San Antonio, Texas, because my son Liam has been bugging me for months to visit The Alamo (my other son, Martin, says he doesn’t care where we go, “just so long as we get away from here”). Beyond that, we’ll be bumming around the Southwest for a week before winding up at a friend’s house in Pasadena, California, then head up the coast to visit family in Oregon. The whole trip will culminate in a visit to Sasquan, aka the 73rd Annual WorldCon, in Spokane, Washington. So it looks like I’m going to be on the road for the next 6-7 weeks. Really, really looking forward to it. And yes, I do hope to be blogging along the way. So expect vacation shots. Lots and lots of vacation shots.

In the meantime, I have to get ready. Clothes to clean and pack, camping gear to get out of storage, a vehicle to stuff full of enough necessities to survive “in the wild” for almost two months. Which is why I haven’t been putting much work into this blog.  Hopefully that will change when I hit the road; I tend to do a lot of writing in my head when I’m on long trips behind the wheel, and for me there’s nothing quite like the American West to kick my writing muses into full gear.

New Horizons Back on Line. UPDATE: New image posted by NASA

New Horizons appears to be working again. As Wired’s website put it, the upcoming encounter made the spacecraft so excited it essentially passed out. But JPL seems to have fixed the problem, and everything looks good for the next week.

Latest images are starting to show features:

pluto july2

And here’s the above laid out as a map. This is all of what we currently know concerning Pluto’s surface details:

pluto map

Both images courtesy of NASA. By this time next week we should be seeing images millions of times clearer than these. Exciting times.


JPL & NASA have released a new color image of Pluto, taken 7/8/2015:

pluto 3

This image is already a huge improvement over the image they released yesterday.  New Horizons is currently 5 Million miles away from Pluto.