A Sci-Fi Guide To Navigating The Universe

A fly-by snapshot of Pluto, the dwarf planet we’ve been singing songs about since grade school, literally shed light on a mysterious interstellar mass this week. At the height of New Horizon’s mission, gritty details of geographical features were captured up close.

And, as if that weren’t enough to make a sci-fi geek giddy, NASA opened a public vote for exactly how to name Pluto’s peaks and valleys. In keeping with the tiny planet’s namesake, potential references for its features are being culled from underworld mythology. Of those suggested so far, there’s Cthulhu, a character from H.P. Lovecraft, a blood-curdling octo-limbed dragon-person, and Balrog, that menacing dragon responsible for Gandalf’s near-demise in The Fellowship of the Ring. The themes for the names of features on Pluto’s many moons have mostly been decided, too — nocturnal gods for Nix, river gods for Styx, fictional dogs for Kerberos. NASA’s OurPluto.org has more details about the voting scheme and submitted suggestions, many of which center on fictional villains and mythological, Hades-like gods.

The names we’ve given to the ridges and black spots that make up the rest of the solar system come from other far-flung fictional worlds. NASA’s official page for sources of planetary names reveals Australian legends, Norse mythology, “The Odyssey,” Gulliver’s Travels, and many other classic tales as inspiration. Below, a brief guide to the galaxy’s literature-inspired features:


Mercury’s craters are many, so the category for its names is a broad one — authors, visual artists and musicians who’ve died more than 50 years ago, and who’ve made a major contribution to their field. This isn’t restricted to science-fiction writers. Charles Dickens, Anton Chekhov, Ruyard Kipling and William Butler Yeats all have craters to their names. The most notable science-fiction writer with a crater on Mercury named after him is Robert Louis —> Read More