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The advent of space exploration has now multiplied manyfold the problems of solar system nomenclature. An interesting example of the emerging trend can be found in the naming of features on Mars. Bright and dark surface markings on the Red Planet have been viewed, recorded and mapped from Earth for several centuries. While the nature of the markings was unknown there was an irresistible temptation to name them nevertheless. Following several abortive attempts to name them after astronomers who had studied Mars, G. V. Schiaparelli in Italy and E. M. Antoniadi, a Greek astronomer who worked in France, established around the turn of the twentieth century the convention of naming Martian features after allusions to classical mythological personages and place names. Thus we have Thoth-Nepenthes, Memnonia, Hesperia, Mare Boreum (the Northern Sea) and Mare Acidalium (the Sour Sea), as well as Utopia, Elysium, Atlantis, Lemuria, Eos (Dawn) and Uchronia (which, I suppose, can be translated as Good Times). In 1890, scholarly people were much more comfortable with classical myth than they are today.

THE KALEIDOSCOPIC surface of Mars was first revealed by American spacecraft of the Mariner series, but chiefly by Mariner 9, which orbited Mars for a full year, beginning in November 1971, and radioed back to Earth more than 7,200 close-up photographs of its surface. A profusion of unexpected and exotic detail was uncovered, including towering volcanic mountains, craters of the lunar sort but much more heavily eroded, and enigmatic, sinuous valleys which were probably caused by running water at previous epochs in the history of the planet. These new features cried out for names, and the IAU dutifully appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Gerard de Vaucouleurs of the University of Texas to propose a new Martian nomenclature. Through the efforts of several of us on the Martian nomenclature committee, a serious attempt was made to deprovincialize the new names. It was impossible to prevent major craters being named after astronomers who had studied Mars, but the range of occupations and nationalities could be significantly broadened. Thus there are Martian craters larger than 60 miles across named after the Chinese astronomers Li Fan and Liu Hsin; after biologists such as Alfred Russel Wallace, Wolf Vishniac, S. N. Vinogradsky, L. Spallanzani, F. Redi, Louis Pasteur, H. J. Muller, T. H. Huxley, J. B. S. Haldane and Charles Darwin; after a handful of geologists such as Louis Agassiz, Alfred Wegener, Charles Lyell, James Hutton and E. Suess; and even after a few science-fiction writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. G. Wells, Stanley Weinbaum and John W. Campbell, Jr. There are also two large craters on Mars named Schiaparelli and Antoniadi.

But there are many more cultures on the planet Earth-even ones with identifiable astronomical traditions-than are represented by any such list of individual names. In an attempt to offset at least in part this implicit cultural bias, a suggestion of mine was accepted to call the sinuous valleys after the names of Mars in other, largely non-European languages. On this page is a table of the most prominent. By a curious coincidence Ma’adim (Hebrew) and Al Qahira (Arabic: the war god after whom Cairo is named) are cheek by jowl. The landing site for the first Viking spacecraft was in Chryse, near the confluence of the Ares, Tiu, Simud and Shalbatana valleys.




Al Qabira:Egyptian Arabic


Auqakuh:Quechua (Inca)

Huo Hsing:Chinese



Nirgaclass="underline" Babylonian




Tiu:Old English

For the massive Martian volcanoes, one suggestion was to name them after major terrestrial volcanoes, such as Ngorongoro or Krakatoa, which would permit some appearance on Mars of cultures with no written astronomical tradition. But this was objected to on the ground that there would be confusion when comparing terrestrial and Martian volcanoes: Which Ngorongoro are we talking about? The same potential problem exists for terrestrial cities, but we seem able to compare Portland, Oregon, with Portland, Maine, without becoming hopelessly confused. Another suggestion, made by a European savant, was to name each volcano “Mons” (mountain) followed by the name of a principal Roman deity in the appropriate Latin genitive case: thus, Mons Martes, Mons Jovis and Mons Veneris. I objected that at least the last of these had been pre-empted by quite a different field of human activity. The reply was: “Oh, I hadn’t heard.” The outcome was to name the Martian volcanoes after adjacent bright and dark markings in the classical nomenclature. We have Pavonis Mons, Elysium Mons and-satisfyingly, for the largest volcano in the solar system-Olympus Mons. Thus, while the volcano names are very much in the Western tradition, by and large the most recent Mars nomenclature represents a significant break with tradition: an important number of features have been named neither after evocations of classical times nor after European geographical features and nineteenth-century Western visual astronomers.

Some Martian and lunar craters are named after the same individuals. This is the Portland case again, and I think it will cause very little confusion in practice. It does have at least one salutary benefit: on Mars there is today a large crater named Galileo. It is about the same size as the one named Ptolemaeus. And there are no craters on Mars named Scheiner or Riccioli.

Another unexpected consequence of the Mariner 9 mission is that the first close-up photographs of the moons of another planet were obtained. Maps now exist which show about half the surface features on the two Martian moons, Phobos and Deimos (the attendants of the war god, Mars). A subcommittee on Mars satellite nomenclature which I chaired assigned craters on Phobos to astronomers who had studied the moons. A prominent crater at Phobos’ south pole is named after Asaph Hall, the discoverer of both moons. Astronomical apocrypha has it that Hall was on the verge of giving up his search for the Martian moons when he was directed by his wife to return to the telescope. He promptly discovered them and named them “fear” (Phobos) and “terror” (Deimos). Accordingly, the largest crater on Phobos was given Mrs. Hall’s maiden name, Angelina Stickney. Had the impacting object that excavated crater Stickney been any larger, it probably would have shattered Phobos.

Deimos is reserved for writers and others who were in some way involved with speculations about the moons of Mars. The two most prominent features are named after Jonathan Swift and Voltaire, who, in their speculative romances, Gulliver’s Travels and Micromégas, respectively, prefigured before the actual discovery the existence of two moons around Mars. I wanted to name a third Deimonic crater after René Magritte, the Belgian surrealist whose paintings “Le Château des Pyrénées” and “Le Sens de Réalité” pictured large rocks, suspended in the sky, of an aspect astonishingly like the two Martian moons-except for the presence in the first painting of a castle, which, so far as we know, does not surmount Phobos. The suggestion was, however, voted down as frivolous.

THIS IS THE moment in history when the features on the planets will be named forever. A crater name represents a substantial memoriaclass="underline" the estimated lifetime of large lunar, Martian and Mercurian craters is measured in billions of years. Because of the enormous recent increase in the number of surface features that need to be named-and also because the names of almost all dead astronomers have already been given to one or another celestial object-a new approach is needed. At the IAU meeting in Sydney, Australia, in 1973, several committees were appointed to look into questions of planetary nomenclature. One clear problem is that if craters on other planets are now named after a category other than people, we will be left with only the names of astronomers and a few others on the Moon and planets. It would be charming to name craters on, say, Mercury, after birds or butterflies, or cities or ancient vehicles of exploration and discovery. But if we accept this course, we will leave the impression on globes and maps and textbooks that we esteem only astronomers and physicists; that we care nothing for poets, composers, painters, historians, archaeologists, playwrights, mathematicians, anthropologists, sculptors, physicians, psychologists, novelists, molecular biologists, engineers and linguists. The proposal that such individuals be commemorated with unassigned lunar craters would result, say, in Dostoevsky or Mozart or Hiroshige assigned craters a tenth of a mile across, while Pitiscus is 52 miles in diameter. I do not think this would speak well for the breadth of vision and intellectual ecumenicism of the name-givers.



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