NASA’s orbiting MESSENGER spacecraft has snapped more than 250,000 photos since plunking into orbit around Mercury in 2011. The solar system’s innermost planet’s ancient surface is Swiss-cheesy with craters of all sizes, all named – according to convention – after deceased artists, musicians, painters, and authors who have made outstanding contributions to their field.
Hellacious holes bear the names of Beethoven, John Lennon, Anton Chekhov and even the ancient Greek poet Homer. Wouldn’t you like to put your mark on one? The MESSENGER Education and Public Outreach Team is holding a competition to name five impact craters on Mercury. As per International Astronomical Union (IAU) rules, they must be named after named after an artist, composer, or writer who was famous for more than 50 years and has been dead for more than three years. Nor should the name have any political, religious or military significance.
You have until 5:59 p.m. (23:59 UT) January 15th to complete the entry form and submit it online. You can send in as many entries as you like, but before you go crazy, don’t forget to check your choice against the current, approved list of solar system features. It’s the only way to know whether your proposed name is unique or has already been assigned. Just type it in the search box in the upper right corner.
Not to scare you, but there are presently over 18,000 named craters on Mercury. A tiny number really, compared to all the artists that have stirred our emotions across the history of civilization, so have at it!
Wikipedia’s OK for looking up potential choices but won’t be accepted as a source. For that you’ll need something more definitive like a biography, magazine article, book or encyclopedia. The IAU provides this list of references you’ll find most helpful.
All entries will be reviewed by MESSENGER team representatives and expert panels.15 finalist names will be submitted to the IAU for selection of the five winners. Winning submissions will be announced by the IAU to coincide with MESSENGER’s End of Mission Operations in late March/April 2015.
Naming things is important. As scientists study the tsunami of data returned by MESSENGER, it becomes important to give names to surface features that are of special scientific interest. Having names for landforms like mountains, craters, and cliffs makes it easier for scientists and others to communicate.The MESSENGER science team has selected five craters of particular geological interest, two of which are shown here.
Good luck in your submissions! If you participate, we’d love to know what names you selected. Please share them via the Comments link below.