When this body was discovered in 1978, Persephone was suggested as its name

On Monday, June 24, 2024, “Jeopardy!” featured an intriguing Final Jeopardy question in the category “Names in the Heavens.” The clue provided was: “When this body was discovered in 1978, Persephone was suggested as its name.”

What is Charon?

Charon, the largest moon of the dwarf planet Pluto, was discovered by astronomer James Christy on June 22, 1978. The discovery of Charon not only expanded our understanding of the celestial bodies in our solar system but also enhanced our knowledge about Pluto itself. Prior to Charon’s discovery, much about Pluto’s mass and other characteristics were speculative; the discovery of a moon allowed astronomers to make more accurate calculations regarding Pluto’s size and mass.

The name “Charon” was officially adopted by the International Astronomical Union in 1985, several years after its discovery. The name is derived from Greek mythology, in which Charon is the ferryman who transports souls across the river Styx to the underworld. This naming is apt as Pluto, the planet Charon orbits, is named after the Roman god of the underworld.

Alternative Naming and Mythological Significance

Initially, there was a proposal to name the newly discovered moon “Persephone,” who is the queen of the underworld and the wife of the god Pluto in mythology. This name would have been thematically consistent with Pluto. However, the name Charon was proposed by Christy as a nod to his wife, Charlene, affectionately nicknamed “Char.” The mythological connection and the personal touch made Charon a fitting choice.

The story behind the name reflects the blend of personal significance and mythological relevance that often accompanies the naming of celestial bodies. This blend enriches the narrative of space exploration and astronomy, connecting human stories with the vast mysteries of the cosmos. The suggestion of “Persephone” remains a fascinating footnote in the history of astronomical nomenclature, illustrating the variety of influences and considerations that play into the naming process.

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