Help Name Mercury’s Craters

Messenger and the International Astronomical Union are calling on the public to name five of Mercury's craters, with a deadline of January 15.

Messenger's Mercury

Messenger's false-color view of Mercury's Caloris Basin.

"Nothing worth doing is easy," or so the saying goes. And the quest to name features and bodies in the solar system isn't easy. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) standardizes celestial names to avoid confusion among the astronomical community (a topic we covered in the November 2012 issue of Sky & Telescope), but in the age of interplanetary missions, the organization faces an ever-growing responsibility.

When Messenger arrived at Mercury, its mission was to take 2,500 pictures of the planet. The spacecraft took a hundredfold more images than expected, producing a high-resolution map of the entire world. Already, the IAU has named 372 of the craters discovered, but several hundred thousand await names.

Here's your chance to help out: Messenger's Education and Public Outreach team is teaming up with the IAU to enlist the public in naming five of Mercury's craters. (See the nameless craters here.) And the fun comes with a challenge because it's not as simple as suggesting a name.

First, you have to stay within the bounds of the IAU stipulations: "All new craters on Mercury must be named after an artist, composer, or writer who was famous for more than 50 years and has been dead for more than three years." And you'll have to do your research too, since the IAU requires a biographical sketch noting the artist's accomplishments and their historical significance. Moreover, you'll need to list your sources — and no, Wikipedia doesn't count.

Fifteen finalists (three for each crater) will be submitted to the IAU, and the five winners will be announced at the end of Messenger's orbital operations in March or April 2015.

Read more details and tips for researching crater names in IAU's press release or get started now by filling out the online form.

Happy naming!

Find the names of more than 350 craters on Sky & Telescope's Mercury globe.