Features Receive New Names
Monday, April 28, 2008
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics
Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
Astronomical Union (IAU) has approved new names for features on
Mercury and agreed on a new theme for fossae on the planet. These
newly christened features were discovered from images taken by
the MESSENGER spacecraft during its first flyby of Mercury in
The IAU is the internationally recognized
authority for assigning designations to surface features on
celestial bodies. “We are very pleased with how quickly the
IAU has responded to the need to name many of the prominent
landforms on Mercury first seen in MESSENGER images,” says
MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean
Solomon of the
Carnegie Institution of Washington. “The Science Team has
just submitted our first scientific papers on the flyby
observations, and this prompt action by the IAU has meant that we
are able to refer to these features by their formal
Naming rules exist for most features on
planets, moons, and asteroids. Mercury’s cliffs are named
after the ships of famous explorers. One set of cliffs discovered
by MESSENGER (called by the Latin name for cliffs, rupes) is
named Beagle Rupes, after the ship on which naturalist Charles
Darwin sailed around the world.
Craters on Mercury are
named after famous deceased artists, musicians, or authors. The
approved crater names are:
after Apollodorus of Damascus, a second-century Greek architect
credited by many with designing the Pantheon temple in Rome.
after Eugène Atget, a French photographer noted for his
photographs documenting the architecture and street scenes of
after Imogen Cunningham, an American photographer known for her
portraits, still lifes, and figure studies.
after Romanian poet Mihail Eminescu, considered to be the
“godfather” of the modern Romanian language.
after André Kertész, a Hungarian-born American
photographer famous for developing the photo essay.
after Chilean poet, Nobel laureate, and politician Pablo Neruda,
most famous for his love poems.
after Leetile Disang Raditladi, a Botswanan poet and playwright
who founded the first political party in Botswana, the Federal
after German photographer August Sander best known for his
after Júlíana Sveinsdóttir, one of
Iceland’s first woman painters and textile artists and a
significant innovator from the 1930s to the 1950s through her
approach to the landscape subject and color palette.
after Xiao Zhao, a Chinese artist from the Southern Song Dynasty
(1127-1279) who once served as Emperor Gao Zong’s dai zhao
(painter-in-attendance) with the honorary title di gong lang
(gentleman for meritorious achievement).
MESSENGER discovered a striking
set of graben (or fault-bounded troughs) that radiate out from a
small area near the center of the Caloris basin. An individual
graben is termed a fossa (plural is fossae) by the IAU. No
previous fossae had been discovered on Mercury from the Mariner
10 images, so the IAU had to approve a new naming
scheme—“significant works of architecture.”
Pantheon Fossae were named after the Pantheon, a still-used
second-century Roman temple and later church. The ancient
building and the fossae both feature a central circular feature
and radiating texture.
Arizona State University’s
who leads the development of global image products from
MESSENGER, says he drew on a database maintained by the IAU, as
well as requests from individuals, for nomenclature
“There’s a certain romance to these
names,” says Robinson. “But more practically, naming
these features facilitates communication among scientists
studying the planet. It’s very cumbersome to write a
scientific paper and say, ‘that big crater just east of
that really huge crater near Mercury’s North pole.’
It’s much easier to name the features.”
its first Mercury pass, MESSENGER’s cameras imaged a large
portion of Mercury’s surface that had not been previously
seen by spacecraft. (When Mariner 10, the only other space
mission to visit Mercury, examined the surface 33 years ago, the
Sun illuminated a different portion of the planet.) As the
MESSENGER Science Team continues to study the images of Mercury,
more features on Mercury will be named.
process is an ongoing effort because as we get more and more
science out of the data we start finding more and more features,”
MESSENGER will next fly past Mercury in
October, viewing the opposite side of the planet. A third flyby
is scheduled for September 2009, and the probe will settle into
Mercury’s orbit in March 2011.
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
supported in part by “Readers Like You”