Mapping Dwarf Planets
This was going to be a part of the news roundup yesterday, but I had too many stories to tell to fit something this big in. So here you go: a Monday update on the naming schemes in progress for the three dwarf planets we’ve been able to get a good look at this year.
Features on Ceres are being named for gods and goddesses of the harvest from around the world, such as the crater Asari, named for the Syrian god of agriculture, or the crater Nawish, named for the guardian of the field of the Acoma. Of course what you’re probably most interested in is the “bright spots,” thought to be ice or salt deposits of some kind or other (we’ll find out soon, don’t worry), and those are in the crater named Occator, named for an assistant god of the Roman Ceres, literally “he who harrows.” The first images we have are from the first of three stages of Dawn’s orbit, the so-called survey stage. The High-Altitude Mapping Orbit, two months spent photographing the dwarf planet from roughly 920 miles (1480km) away, is set to begin August 17, so we have better pictures to look forward to coming soon. The best and final pictures will come starting in December, however, when Dawn enters her final orbital distance of only 230 miles (375km).
The features on Pluto are named in a few themes: The purple areas up top are named for spacecraft, like Voyager, Pioneer, and Hayabusa. There are point sites, like mountains and craters, named for famous explorers — like Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary — and for scientists and engineers who helped us develop our knowledge of Pluto — like Clyde Tombaugh and Percival Lowell. And then of course there are the underworld-themed areas, like Tartarus Dorsa and Cthulhu Regio. Check out the map, it’s really interesting. And finally,
Pluto’s other half, where features are being named for: fictional explorers and travellers, like Kirk and Spock; fictional origins and destinations, like Mordor and the Shire; fictional ships, like Tardis and Serenity (yes, for really real); and for authors/artists/creators whose topics were exploration, like Butler (Octavia Butler), D. Adams (Douglas Adams), and Lem (Stanislav Lem). These haven’t been approved by the IAU yet, but they’ve been submitted, so it may yet be literally true that one does not simply walk into Mordor.
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Richard Ford Burley is a doctoral candidate in English at Boston College, where he’s writing about remix culture and the processes that generate texts in the Middle Ages and on the internet. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, and feminism (and naming conventions on dwarf planets) here at This Week In Tomorrow.