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Pamela Lyndon Travers saw a bit of the world. The creator of “Mary Poppins” traveled from Australia to the British Isles to the United States. And late last year, she traveled even farther — or at least her name did. A hundred-mile-wide crater on the planet Mercury was named in her honor.
So far, astronomers have named more than 500 features on Mercury — mostly impact craters mapped by Mariner 10 and Messenger, the only spacecraft ever to visit the planet.
Different types of features have different naming themes. Craters are named for people from the creative arts: authors, painters, musicians, and others. The list includes Dr. Seuss, Johann Sebastian Bach, French painter Paul Cezanne, Mexican painter Diego Rivera, Walt Disney, and Imhotep, architect of the first pyramids of ancient Egypt.
Some types of ridges are named for scientists and engineers who contributed to the study of Mercury, such as Gerard Kuiper, a one-time director of McDonald Observatory. Tall cliffs are named for famous ships that explored the world. And wide volcanic plains are given the names for Mercury from different cultures.
And the Sun’s closest and smallest planet is in view in the early evening sky the next few days. It’s quite low in the west as twilight fades away. But it looks like a fairly bright star. So if you have a clear horizon, you should be able to spot Mercury — a little planet with a distinctly artistic flair.
Script by Damond Benningfield