Astrogeology Science Center

Naming a Baby or Planetary Feature: Which is Easier?

16 June 2017

After debating over what to name the baby, you’d probably be happier to name a planetary surface feature, natural satellite, dwarf planet, or a planetary ring or two. It seems easier than the conundrums of figuring out what to name a child, particularly when it gets frustrating and everyone has an opinion, and you just can’t decide. The truth is the naming process (for surface features, satellites, dwarf planets and rings) share many of the same characteristics and challenges as parents-to-be in the naming of a child: ethos, history, naming after deceased persons, and so on, and I suspect some hot debates can develop behind closed doors, just as in families. However, some things are done in naming planetary features that regular families don’t do. Can you guess what things they are? Rosalyn Hayward is a Database Manager for Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature and she tells how the naming job gets done!



“The task of naming planetary surface features, rings, and natural satellites is managed by the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN). WGPSN members include Rita Schulz (chair) and 9 other members representing countries around the globe (see author list). In 2013, Blue et al. [1] presented an overview of planetary nomenclature. Given the extensive planetary exploration and research that has taken place since 2013, it is timely to update the community on the status of planetary nomenclature, the purpose and rules, the process for submitting name requests, and the IAU approval process.”

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By Janet Richie