What Should Planet X Be Named?

Recently, astronomers from the Carnegie Institution for Science, Northern Arizona University, the University of Hawaii, and the University of Oklahoma teamed up to discover a new dwarf planet, which they’ve dubbed “The Goblin” in honor of Halloween (since it is October, after all). Many scientists believe there may be thousands of these small objects in the Oort Cloud (an area made up of mostly icy objects believed to surround the Sun beyond the strong pull of its’ gravity) at the edge of our solar system.

What I find fascinating about The Goblin, though, is that its’ odd orbit helps to support the theory of the existence of a mysterious Planet X floating around beyond Pluto. You see, The Goblin’s off-kilter orbit suggests that something big is tugging at it. And this is not the first observation of heavenly bodies circling in weird ways out beyond Pluto. Two other objects found in the Oort Cloud—2012 VP113 and Sedna—have highly-elongated orbits as well.

What I wonder is—if there is another planet out there, what should it be named? Right now, astronomers refer to it as either Planet 9 or Planet X. … I’ll call it Planet X since I know someone who still insists Pluto is the ninth planet. Anyhow—should the tradition of naming planets after mythological Roman gods be continued? If so, after what Roman god (or goddess) should Planet X be named?

I don’t know about you, but two possibilities immediately enter my mind. Proserpina or Orpheus. … Let me tell you why.

This composite of enhanced color images of Pluto (lower right) and Charon (upper left), was taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it passed through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/charon-and-pluto-strikingly-different-worlds
This composite of enhanced color images of Pluto (lower right) and Charon (upper left), was taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it passed through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/charon-and-pluto-strikingly-different-worlds

First, a lot of underworld associations exist at the edge of our solar system. Two of the now-dwarf planet Pluto’s companion moons—Charon and Styx—evoke images of the ferryman (Charon) that transports the dead across the river (Styx) to the underworld, plus Pluto himself is the Roman lord of the underworld. Nix (Charon’s mother and Greek goddess of darkness and night) and Kerberos (the dog that guards the underworld) are two of Pluto’s other moons. To me, the implication is that if you go beyond Pluto, Charon, Styx, Nix, and Kerberos, you are entering the underworld. And if you enter the underworld, you might expect to find mythological beings from the underworld there.

Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 – 1882) currently held at the Tate in Great Britain. Public Domain. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_Proserpine_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 – 1882) currently held at the Tate in Great Britain. Public Domain. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_Proserpine_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

You could expect to run into Proserpina because Proserpina—the Roman version of Persephone—was abducted and taken to the underworld by Pluto. (I personally like the choice of a female goddess when thinking up a name for Planet X. I mean, come on, the only other planet named after a goddess is Venus. Isn’t it about time for another female-titled planet?)

Another Roman myth connects Proserpina to Orpheus. Orpheus entered the underworld to find and bring back his wife, Eurydice, who died from a snake bite. When he encountered Proserpina there, Orpheus charmed her with his music so that she would let him return his wife to the land of the living—that is, if he could do so without looking back. Unfortunately, Orpheus did glance back, thus losing Eurydice forever.

Orpheus and Eurydice by Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein-Stub (1783 – 1816) currently held at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Public Domain. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kratzenstein_orpheus.jpg
Orpheus and Eurydice by Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein-Stub (1783 – 1816) currently held at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Public Domain. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kratzenstein_orpheus.jpg

Hmn, so if Orpheus technically entered but then left the underworld, perhaps the second option for Planet X should really be Eurydice instead? (And digging deeper, the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice actually originates with the Greeks, not the Romans… so there is that, too.)

And does any of my contemplating even matter? Per NASA, “naming rights of an object go to the person who actually discovers it” and “must be approved by the International Astronomical Union.” So no matter what you and I may think, only the discoverer’s opinion ultimately matters. If YOU discover Planet X, though, please ponder Proserpina, Orpheus, and Eurydice as prime options…  🙂