“Where are you sending your daughter this summer?” I asked Pete.
“She doesn’t look like a hippopotamus.”
“Not Hippo Camp. Hippocamp, the small Neptune moon discovered recently by the Hubble Space Telescope.”
“Won’t that be costly?” I asked. “Cold and distant?”
“There’s no tuition. I just have to get her there,” Pete said.
“Won’t she be homesick?”
“I’m sick of her sitting home, playing videos.”
“How will she get back?”
“That’s for her to figure.”
“She’ll thank me someday.”
This was going nowhere, so I tried my alternative, research. Hippocamp (singular) is named after Hippocampi, the horselike sea monsters that in ancient myth drove Neptune’s chariot. The International Astronomical Union, the official arbiter of space names, deems Neptune’s moons must be named after figures associated with the long-ago Roman sea god.
I have issues with that. (I have so many of my own issues outside scapegoats are godsends.) If, through my cardboard-tube telescope, I discover a ridge on Pluto, who is the IAU to say I can’t name it after myself? Or “Poindexter”?
The Union was formed in 1919, some say, out of necessity. As ever more powerful telescopes, spacecraft and robotic missions add to identified real estate of the cosmos, naming guidelines keep the ever-more-crowded-void from becoming a Tower of Babel.
Explorers, take heed: newly-found moon ridges must be named for a geoscientist. Almost anything on Jupiter’s eruptive moon Io must have a name linked with fire or Dante’s “Inferno.”
IAU rules have been in the news since the Carnegie Institution of Science announced it needs help naming moons of Jupiter discovered last year by Scott Sheppard using a giant telescope in Chile. Before tweeting suggestions to the handle @JupiterLunacy, hashtag #NameJupitersMoons, be cognizant:
- It must come from a character in mythology who was either a descendant or lover of Greek godhead Zeus or the Roman Jupiter.
- It must be 16 characters or less, preferably one word.
- It can’t be offensive, too commercial or closely tied to any political, military or religious activities of the past 100 years.
- It can’t belong to a living person nor too similar to names of existing moons or asteroids.
- If the moon in question is prograde (circles in the same direction as its planet rotates) the name must end in an “a.” If it is retrograde (circles in the opposite direction), the name has to end in an “e.”
Abandon all hope, ye who enter this naming process? (Oops, Dante quotes are for Io.) The good news is Jupiter/Zeus were philanderers whom made Hugh Hefner look like a 91-year-old virgin. With today’s “Me Too” movement, the possible names list is sure to replenish as no statue of limitations exists I know of.
Still, the retrograde “ends in e” scenario is running out of names, says Sheppard. So, Penelope, Chloe, Zoe, et al. defiled by the divine, step up.
I was right: my research led nowhere also. If Pete sent his daughter to a moon of Neptune, I was afraid mine would want to go too. So I tried something else.
“Where would Hippo Camp meet?” I asked Pete.
“A Hippo Campus?”
“You mean the part of the brain’s limbic system essential in mashing up short-term and long-term memories plus navigating through space?”
“That’s hippocampus,” Pete said. “I want her as far from my mind as possible.”
This was not boding well. “Does she need to lose weight?” I asked.
“All she does is sit.”
“She could tighten those thighs at a hip-0-camp. Turn those hippos to zippos!”
“You’re starting to babble.”
No man or woman has gone past Earth’s moon, I got thinking. So Pete’s dream of Hippocamp for his daughter likely was a pipe one.
“I love her,” Pete said. “I just don’t understand her.”
“You and all other dads. What about your wife?”
“Her neither. Abandon all hope, ye men who …”
“Save that for Io,” I said.