The crater Degas displays a bright blue color in this image of Mercury from the MESSENGER spacecraft. The blue material, which has been enhanced in this image, is actually quite dark. The craters on Mercury are named for painters, writers, musicians, and other artists. Earlier this year, the International Astronomical Union approved names for nine more craters. Among others, they honor Estonian novelist Betti Alver, horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, and Hawaiian guitarist Charles Pahinui. [NASA/JHUAPL/Carnegie Inst.-Washington]
It takes a lot of hard work to explore the worlds of our solar system. Over the last five years, for example, scientists have analyzed thousands of pictures of Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun, snapped by the Messenger spacecraft. Those pictures have revealed mountains, canyons, craters, and other features — many of which had never been seen before.
But once you find all those features you have to name them — a job that’s not much easier than the exploration itself.
Before Messenger, the only craft to visit Mercury had seen just half of the planet. Scientists came up with more than a hundred names for the features on that hemisphere. Craters were named for deceased writers, painters, and other artists — a list that included Johannes Brahms, Emily Brontë, and Charles Dickens.
Messenger has seen all of Mercury, revealing many more craters. The list of names for them has included Aaron Copland, Walt Disney, and Alvin Ailey.
Nine more crater names were approved earlier this year. Among others, they honor Estonian novelist Betti Alver, horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, and Hawaiian guitarist Charles Pahinui.
The new additions bring the number of named features on Mercury to more than 400 — with thousands more still nameless.
Mercury is quite low in the west shortly after sunset. It’s faint, but you should be able to find it because it’s just to the upper left of Venus, the “evening star.” The two worlds will stand side by side tomorrow evening.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013
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