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Utahns launch mission to give Earth's moon a proper name

FRUIT HEIGHTS — It all started on a moonlit drive.

The moon was full and particularly brilliant, and Tawni Henderson and her companions took notice. As they drove, Henderson shared something she had read on the web, that Earth's moon is named after its astronomical classification, unlike other planets' moons, which have names.

"We're just like, 'Let's try to name the moon,'" she said.

Next thing she knew, a small group of friends and family had developed a website encouraging a movement to name the moon. The website received more than 1,500 suggested names from 30 countries, 4,100 responses and counting.

“Other moons in the solar system have names like Ganymede, Titan, Bianca and Belinda, and they’re the same names in every language. The most beautiful moon in the solar system, our moon — which is currently named after its classification — also deserves one unique name," she said.

The effort, Henderson says, has entered a new phase, so to speak — voting on a name among the top 12 candidates. They include Moon, Diana, Solo, Kai, Lani, Luna, Olea, EONS, Pax, Selene, Skywalker and Theia. Votes are being taken at namethemoon.world.

"It's just one of those things. We wanted to have a lot of fun with it. And we have had a lot of fun with it so far," she said.

After the votes are tabulated, the group plans to submit a petition to the International Astronomical Union for consideration.

Patrick Wiggins, a NASA solar system ambassador since 2002, said the moon is commonly known as the moon worldwide, whether it's Luna from Latin or Mond from German.

"I guess it just depends who you want to listen to. Does it already have a name? Does your culture have a name for it? It's not as clear-cut as far as I'm concerned as with the other planetary natural satellites. They do have names," he said.

The nomenclature committee of the International Astronomical Union reviews such requests and "decides whether to make it official."

But the process of naming minor planets is difficult and can become "partially political, believe it or not," he said.

And Wiggins would know. The longtime astronomy educator has discovered several asteroids — one renamed Univofutah by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center. The same body named a minor planet for Wiggins himself, 4099 Wiggins.

The odds of a grass-roots campaign altering the name of Earth's natural satellite are "probably futile. But some some people, once they get a burr under their saddle, like to ride it out. It could be interesting to see what happens," Wiggins said.

Henderson acknowledges the campaign is shooting for the moon, as it were, but she remains optimistic.

"We would like to see it happen, but we realize the odds of that happening are probably pretty low, but we'll send it in regardless and have them consider it," she said.

Henderson said her favorite candidate is Pax.

"It means peace. I do like a big reminder of peace up in the sky like that for all the world to see," she said.

Mostly, the campaign has been enjoyable, particularly learning that people across the globe share an interest in the moon having a name other than moon.

According to online voting thus far, Moon "was trailing far behind, which we were excited about. We just think Moon isn't that fun of a name, which is where this all came from," Henderson said.

In early voting, the leaders are Luna and Theia, she said.

The grass-roots campaign has received international attention on the internet, including one article published by a Korean publication.

"We've had a lot of fun doing it," Henderson said.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com