Curiosity’s Name Game

Scientists associated with the Curiosity mission have two names for the towering peak inside Gale crater. Sky & Telescope wants to know: Which name do you prefer?

Update: We've been informed that there was a glitch on the SurveyMonkey site, which wasn't showing the poll responses correctly. We've fixed the problem, so the poll responses are back up. Never fear — all the answers were recorded, with 1,256 responses and counting! We'll report back soon with the final tally.

In a few weeks, after NASA's Curiosity rover has spent some time scratching and sniffing around its immediate environs, the rover will make tracks (so to speak) for its main objective: a towering peak that rises 3 miles (5 km) from the floor of Gale crater.

Oblique view of Gale crater on Mars
This oblique view of Gale crater and the huge mound in its interior was created by combining elevation and imaging data from three Mars orbiters. The view is looking toward the southeast. The crater is 96 miles (154 km) in diameter, and a yellow cross marks Curiosity's landing site.
NASA / JPL / ESA / DLR / FU Berlin / MSSS
The huge massif was unknown to astronomers prior to spacecraft reconnaissance of Mars. In fact, early in the planning stages for Curiosity's journey, mission scientists referred to it simply as "The Mound," though that seemed somewhat undignified for such an imposing and (for the rover) all-important feature. So they undertook an effort to name the mountain, but the unintended result was two names: Aeolis Mons and Mount Sharp.

Confusing, no? So we're asking you to tell us which name you prefer. Read the descriptions below, go to the polling page we've created, and cast your vote for one name or the other.

Oblique view of Gale crater on Mars
This image, taken by the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter, shows a color-coded view of the topography in and around Gale crater &mhdash; most notably the tall, broad peak on the crater's floor.
ESA / DLR / FU Berlin / G. Neukum
Here then is the rationale for each name:

Aeolis Mons has roots that date to the 1870s. Mons is Latin for mountain, and Aeolis is associated with a region of Mars occasionally seen by telescopic observers. In Greek mythology, Aeolis was a `floating island where winds were kept in a cave inside a mountain. The name has been formally associated with this region of Mars since 1958, when it was recognized as such by the International Astronomical Union.

According to the IAU's naming conventions, mountains of this large size must likewise carry mythological names. So in May a panel of planetary experts assigned it the name Aeolis Mons. It's part of a family of features in this region, such as Aeolis Planum (a plateau), Aeolis Dorsum (a ridge), and so forth. The flat expanse of crater floor that Curiosity landed on is named Aeolis Palus.

Mount Sharp is a moniker coined by the mission scientists themselves. Many of them had close ties to Robert P. Sharp (1911–2004), a consummate field geologist and a key figure in formative years of planetary exploration. Sharp taught geology at Caltech from 1948 until well past retirement, influencing and guiding many current planetary scientists along the way.

"Bob Sharp was one of the best field geologists this country has ever had," says Michael Malin, who is one of Sharp's former students and now serves as principal investigator for two of the rover's 10 science instruments. Everyone on Curiosity's geologist-rich science team felt it would be entirely fitting to honor their later friend and mentor by naming The Mound after him. So in March they did just that. While the IAU panel could not sanction that choice, it did decide to give the name Robert Sharp to a 95-mile-wide crater just a bit to Gale's northwest.

So which of these — Aeolis Mons or Mount Sharp — is the best fit? Let us know your choice by voting now. Afterward, you'll be able to view the results so far, and I'll incorporate the final tally in a longer post about this interesting nom du pic.

34 thoughts on “Curiosity’s Name Game

  1. Bill Wright

    I just voted for Mt. Sharp as the "official" name for The Mound. It is as much a protest vote as it is a preference vote.

    I mean, what’s the IAU’s hang-up with naming a martial mountain after an ancient Greek myth? How euro-centric can it get? Greek mythology is not earth mythology. Why not use Chinese or Japanese or Australian Aboriginal mythology? Maybe the IAU’s intention is to name space objects after the most obscure and meaningless thing they can think of; thereby not invoking the ire of anyone. The name of the mountain then becomes as meaninless and obscure as its source.

    My personal preference, though not one of the choices (and there was no place for a write-in candidate) would be MOUNT CURIOSITY in honor of the explorer who first set foot (wheel?) on it.

  2. Jim Hamm

    I kind of like the latin names, but rather than Aeolis Mons, how about calling it Curiositas Mons? That will agree with Bill Wright’s suggestion above, and it will have the cool-sounding latin name at the same time. And it isn’t like the Curiosity rover will get a swelled head from having the mountain it is climbing named after itself. (NASA wouldn’t have to tell it.)

  3. anonomy

    Aeolis Mons as the official moniker is appropriate, but there isn’t anything wrong with calling it Mount Sharp informally. Perhaps that prominant peak on Aeolis Mons can be referred to as "Sharp Peak" (or that other prominance "Sharp Ridge") as these features are, descriptively so, and in keeping with honoring one sharp geologist.

  4. Giulio Pecora

    I am an European, Italian to be precise, but I totally agree with Bill Wright. If Curiosity had landed on Mars two thousand years ago, then a Latin name would have been a very natural choice. Today, though, the international language is English. For any modern translator, Mons is the name of a nice, little Belgian city, whereas Mt. Sharp is a name that can be understood fairly easily at any latitude on Earth. Besides, Curiosity’s picture is one of the sharpest ever taken of a Martian geological feature. Finally, I may be naive but I would like NASA to wait before naming this feature, because suppose Curiosity can finally find concrete and direct evidence of bacteria or any other form of living organism there, then the name could be one and one only: The Mountain of Life (much better than Mons Vitae, right ?).

  5. Skyfan_hawaii

    I sort of favor "Mount Sharp" since there is a bit of mission history there, and having the Apollo names actually assigned to some Lunar features preserves those events. On the other hand, there’s a whole (probably unintentionally) punny association between "windy" names: Gale Crater, which certainly evokes strong breezes, then the whole Aeolus area. A mixture of the two might be in order: Spiculus Mons maybe?

  6. hall

    I think we should go with a much more curnet name and go with "Mt. Wannahackaloogie" (sp.) I don’t care what I bunch of stuffy scientist think, let the people have a say for a change.

  7. Anthony Barreiro

    "Aeolus Mons" is consistent with the current naming convention for Martian mountains and relates to other geographical (marsographical?) features in the area. If you want to change the convention, join the International Astronomical Union and start a petition. Bob Sharp was an inspiring teacher and deserves recognition. We name Martian craters after scientists, and he got one named after him. And there’s no reason we can’t informally call the top of Aeolus Mons "Sharp Peak", as was anonymously suggested. But the mountain itself needs a name that fits with the names of all the other Martian mountains.

  8. Ray St. Louis ( NBAC)

    I believe the pioneers of these missions, in this case Sharp, should be honored before utilizing dated Latin terms. However, because this was broadcast in such a way as to demonstrate the team-work and dedication behind the logistics of this mission, it should name Curiosity in there somewhere. This would preserve the historical relationship between the great feat and the team that brought us there from a dream to the destination. All that said, congratulations on your successful mission and good luck with the exploration!

  9. century75

    Whenever the IAU is involved, all bets are off. When New Horizons launched in January 2006, they arbitrarily decided on a midnight, back alley vote, and tossed America’s ONLY discovery of a major solar-system planet – into the trash.

    I vote for: Short-Stack or Shortstack. The ancients have enough accolades upon them. This is OUR era !!! Our time. Why have we kowtowed to allow a Greek or Roman or any other nation or era’s names to be applied to OUR efforts ???? It’s horsey-poop !

  10. Skywalker224

    Tempus est desinere quod signandi ut usu sermonis Latini, ut montem etsi alio planeta.

    Ita, certe ‘Curiositas’ habet nomen iura.

    Et patet solutio: Aeolide Acumen. (Aeolis Acumen)

  11. Martin B. Vestergaard

    I really don’t see any problem with the mountain having more than one name, most places on Earth does. The Moon is officially Luna, Earth is Terra, the Sun is Sol, etc.

    Most scientific names are for historical reasons Latin, it’s a dead language, so there is not much controversy over using it for naming. Apart from the Eurocentricity that is. As for choosing names from Greek mythology, I agree that to many prominent features in our solar system carry names from European mythology.

  12. Gavin

    The poll seems to be having a problem, after I voted this is what is displayed:
    What do you think the mountain inside Gale Crater should be named?
    answered question 0
    skipped question 121
    It appears that votes are not being counted.

  13. Ramiro

    I think it should be called the mountain of pain, for all the lives that were in Hiroshima on the same day that the curiosity reached Mars in commemoration of all the poor souls who went to that terror.
    It is my humble opinion.

  14. Martin B. Vestergaard

    I really don’t see any problem with the mountain having more than one name, most places on Earth does, as does many objects in our solar system. The Moon is officially Luna, Earth is Terra, the Sun is Sol, etc.

    Most scientific names are for historical reasons Latin, it’s a dead language, so there is not much controversy over using it for naming. Apart from the Eurocentricity that is. As for choosing names from Greek mythology, I agree that to many prominent features in our solar system carry names from European mythology.

  15. James Rose

    I would suggest something different, but close to one of the two choices: Areola Mons, or Areole Mons, since that is what is looks like to me.

  16. Ed Olson

    There are already too many Aeolis features. And we don’t need to honor everybody with the name of a mountain. Their works are their own monument. I prefer Mt. Curiousity.

  17. Dan Malloy

    I voted for Mount Sharp. When I first saw Aeolis, I thought aeolian from my geology classes, referring to wind features, like dunes. Aeolis Mons- a mountain of a dune. A dune is more than just a pile of sand, it’s shaped by the wind and often migrates. A wind-blown or -shaped mountain would be a huge dune, which this is not.

  18. Andrea

    Aeolis Mons is my favourite
    And frankly the use of the Latin dont disturb me. It is a "dead" language neutral even to me in Italy.
    Aeolis is just a pleasant sound like should be Waitaha Zhongguo or Spongebob… :)

  19. 2000

    How about naming it after Sir Bernard Lovell, founder of Jodrell Bank Observatory who sadly passed away within hours of the landing? "Lovell’s Landing" ?

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