Mountain ranges on Pluto have officially been named after Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

After proposing to name mountain ranges on the dwarf planet after the legendary Kiwi explorer and Indian and Nepali sherpa several years ago, the International Astronomical Union this month confirmed the official titles Hillary Montes and Tenzing Montes.

In 1953, the pair were the first to reach the summit of Mt Everest and return safely.

Stardome astronomer Dr Grant Christie said it was appropriate that the mountain ranges were icy, rather than rock, given the nature of Everest, and Hillary's later exploits in Antarctica.

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Pluto's first official surface-feature names are marked on this map, compiled from images and data gathered by Nasa's New Horizons spacecraft during its flight through the Pluto system in 2015. Photo / Nasa, JHUAPL, SWRI, Ross Beyer
Pluto's first official surface-feature names are marked on this map, compiled from images and data gathered by Nasa's New Horizons spacecraft during its flight through the Pluto system in 2015. Photo / Nasa, JHUAPL, SWRI, Ross Beyer

"It's quite a nice gesture that they have a combination of their names - it would have been inappropriate to have one name and not the other."

Other Kiwis who have features in space named after them include painter Frances Hodgkins, honoured with a crater on Mercury, scientists Bill Pickering and Sir Ernest Rutherford, who have craters on the moon and Mars, and several astronomers including Alan Gilmore and Dr Michele Bannister, who have asteroids named after them.

Last year, the IAU also approved the name "New Zealand" for an asteroid whizzing around a belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The newly named ranges were among 14 geological features on Pluto's surface, whose newly approved titles pay homage to the underworld mythology, pioneering space missions, historic pioneers who crossed new horizons in exploration, and scientists and engineers associated with Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

Burney Crater honoured the late Venetia Burney, who as an 11-year-old schoolgirl suggested the name "Pluto" for Clyde Tombaugh's newly discovered planet in 1930.
Later in life, she taught mathematics and economics.

Nasa's New Horizons team proposed the names to the IAU after the first reconnaissance of Pluto and its moons by the New Horizons spacecraft.

Some of the names were suggested by members of the public during the Our Pluto campaign, which was launched as a partnership between the IAU, the New Horizons project and the Seti Institute.

Other names had been used informally by the New Horizons science team to describe the many regions, mountain ranges, plains, valleys and craters discovered during the first close-up look at the surfaces of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.

"We're very excited to approve names recognising people of significance to Pluto and the pursuit of exploration as well as the mythology of the underworld," said Rita Schulz, chairwoman of the IAU working group for planetary system nomenclature.

"These names highlight the importance of pushing to the frontiers of discovery.

"We appreciate the contribution of the general public in the form of their their naming suggestions and the New Horizons team for proposing these names to us."

More names were expected to be proposed to the IAU, both for Pluto and for its moons.