January 11, 2014
Imagine The Lennon Crater On Mercury
If you ever get to be a star, how would you like to be immortalised? You could get to leave a footprint or a handprint on a Hollywood sidewalk, maybe a big bronze statue somewhere, or have an airport, skyscraper, museum, or even a city named in your memory? But then, perhaps you might just like to have a crater named after you. But if you are the kind of star that likes a big old ego boost, and let’s face it most of them do, forget it. You will never see it happen in your lifetime – you have to be dead to have a crater named after you!
This accolade has just been given to The Beatles star John Lennon. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has announced the names of ten craters onMercury and Lennon is one of those commemorated. The IAU has strict rules for the naming of celestial bodies and features and has been involved in deciding the names since 1919. In Mercury’s case, the craters are all named after deceased famous figures noted for their work in the fields of art and music, as well as authors. The latest selection of ten names, some of whom are not quite as well known to most of us as Lennon, were chosen by the science team working on the NASA Messenger spacecraft. Apart from Lennon the other nine craters were named Barney (Natalie Clifford Barney, a playwright, poet and novelist); Berlioz (French composer); Calder (Alexander Calder an American sculptor famous for inventing the mobile sculpture); Capote (Truman Capote, author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood); Caruso (Enrico Caruso, Italian tenor); Ensor (James Sydney Ensor, Belgian artist); Giambologna (Jean Boulogne Giambologna, Dutch sculptor); Remarque (Erich Maria Remarque, German author of All Quiet on the Western Front); and Viera de Silva (Maria Elena de Silva, a Portugese painter).
Messenger, which stands for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging, was launched in 2004 and made its first flypast of Mercury in 2008 and since then many craters were given names before the latest ten. Sean Solomon, the mission’s principle investigator, said “The Messenger Team is delighted that the IAU has named an additional ten impact craters on Mercury. We are particularly pleased that 8 of the 10 individuals honoured made all or many of their artistic contributions in the Twentieth Century, the same century in which the Messenger mission was conceived, proposed, and approved for flight. Imagine”.
Naming astronomical features in this way is partly done for fun but has a more serious side as it is much easier for scientists to remember and identify specific areas than relying solely on co-ordinates. Pluto’s satellites, for example, are named after mythological deities that are linked with the underworld such as Styx, while Jupiter’s moons, like Io and Europa, are named after lovers and descendants of Jupiter. Martian craters are named after famous scientists and science fiction authors like Asimov and Burroughs as well as towns, for example Annapolis, Bordeaux, and Bridgetown.
When I read about the naming of a crater on Mercury after John Lennon I couldn’t help but think how appropriate it was. Mercury is often described as having the most eccentric orbit of any planet; it varies between 29 and 44 million miles. Lennon himself was never afraid to go off on tangents in his personal and professional life in his own eccentric orbit around us all.
Image Credit: Thinkstock