Let’s Name a Moon!


I’m doing something very different today — I’m handing the keyboard (metaphorically) over to a friend of mine to share something really cool that he and his colleagues are up to. Latif Nasser is co-host of Radiolab — a radio show and podcast that I’ve shared episodes of here many times. He’s one of the few people I know who is as intellectually curious as I am, and his work at Radiolab and beyond reflects that. Also, he once invited me to their pitch session and it was a blast, but that’s neither here nor there.

A few weeks ago, Latif had a story go viral about a space rock he called Zoozve, which I shared in the subsequent Friday/Weekender Now I Know. And that led to… well, I’ll let him explain. Here’s Latif!

The Earth Quasi-Moon You Can Help Name

Hey folks! Honored to be writing for the first time for Now I Know, which I subscribe to and read all the time!  I want to tell you a story that changed how I think about our cosmic neighborhood.  And I hope you stick to the end, because there’s actually something you can DO, a way to potentially make your mark on our solar system!

Okay here we go. 

About a year and a half ago I noticed something weird on a solar system poster up in my 2 year old’s bedroom. Venus had a moon, which – according to NASA – it wasn’t supposed to. Even stranger, the moon was labeled “Zoozve”.  When I googled that word, I found nothing in English.  Long research story short, with the help of my friend Liz at NASA, I learnt that the object on the poster was indeed a real object out in space, not a moon exactly but a whole new beautiful and surprising category of thing called a quasi-moon! (Quasi moons are smaller and further away then traditional moons, but they can also do weird loopy dances around their closest planet.) The reason the poster said Zoozve and not 2002VE (its actual name) was that the illustrator made, basically, a typo. 

I thought the typo was funny, so I officially petitioned the International Astronomical Union to name the object Zoozve, which – to my shock – it actually did!! The story went viral on Twitter and did really well on our podcast and got a lot of wider coverage.  NASA even included Zoozve and the story of the poster on their website in the section about Venus not having moons!

Anyway, why am I telling you any of this? Well after we actually pulled off naming Zoozve, my colleagues and I at Radiolab decided to partner with the International Astronomical Union (in my mind I call them the real-life Guardians of the Galaxy) to launch a fan contest to name a quasi-moon of Earth!! We soft-launched the contest earlier this month, and the idea is that anyone in the world can submit a name idea at Radiolab.org/moon, much the same way that 11-year-old Venetia Burney suggested the name Pluto way back in 1930!! (The most important thing about the name is that it has to be mythological) We have already gotten 500+ submissions but we would love to get more from all over the world. And then starting in November, the public will be able to vote on the 10 best names, and the top vote-getter will be the final name! 

Once again, here’s the submission form.  I hope it provides you with some sweet nerdy fun and inspiration. And who knows, maybe this will be the thing that you do in your life that will outlive you! 

So, what are you waiting for? Go name a quasi-moon!

The Now I Know Week In Review

Monday: How Bad Film Captured an Explosion: A story of an accidental discovery.

Tuesday: The Reverse Vending Machine That Feeds Stray Dogs: Recycling also helps feed the non-pet pet population. It’s a neat idea.

Wednesday: Why (Some) Coins Have Ridges: As a side note, it’s not so hard to find a silver dime; there are still a bunch of ones from 1964 (I think) still in circulation.

Thursday: Celebrating Independence with Flying Cars: I somehow forgot to put the video in this one — it’s here, and again, fast forward to about 1:40.

And some other things you should check out:

Let’s do something fun this week — here are three of my favorite Radiolab (and Radiolab-adjacent) episodes!

1) “Colors” (Radiolab, 70 minutes, May 2012). Here’s the Radiolab-written description: “To what extent is color a physical thing in the physical world, and to what extent is it created in our minds? We start with Sir Isaac Newton, who was so eager to solve this very mystery, he stuck a knife in his eye to pinpoint the answer. Then, we meet a sea creature that sees a rainbow way beyond anything humans can experience, and we track down a woman who we’re pretty sure can see thousands (maybe even millions) more colors than the rest of us. And we end with an age-old question, that, it turns out, never even occurred to most humans until very recently: why is the sky blue?”

2) “Kittens Kick The Giggly Blue Robot All Summer” (More Perfect/Radiolab, 40-minute listen, July 2016). The title is a tad misleading — ignore it. I have a law degree I don’t use (at least not formally) and actually enjoyed law school. Every American law student learns about the first meaningful Supreme Court case, Marbury v. Madison… and I learned a lot more about it, and how historically fascinating it is, from this podcast than I did in school.

3) “The Montreal Screwjob” (Radiolab, 36 minutes, February 2015). Pro wrestling is fake, as everyone knows. But usually, the wrestlers are in on the fakery. Usually.

Have a great weekend!