NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft has been orbiting Mercury since March 2011. It’s the first spacecraft ever to orbit this innermost planet in our solar system. On December 15, 2014, MESSENGER’s public outreach team launched a competition inviting the public to name five impact craters on Mercury. The contest runs until Thursday (January 15, 2015.) Fifteen finalist names for craters will be submitted to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) for selection of the five winners. Winning submissions will be announced by the IAU to coincide with the end of MESSENGER’s mission.
Despite frequent boosts to higher orbit over the past months, the spacecraft is expected to run out fuel and crash into Mercury in late March or April 2015.
The contest allows the public to immortalize an important person in the arts and humanities from anywhere in the world. According to the IAU — self-appointed governing body of planetary and satellite nomenclature since 1919 – all new craters on Mercury must be named after an artist, composer, or writer who was famous for more than 50 years and has been dead for more than three years. See the current list of named Mercury craters.
The original goal of MESSENGER was to take 2,500 images of the planet, but is has returned more than 250,000 images. Julie Edmonds leads the MESSENGER Education and Public Outreach (EPO) Team. She said:
We now have a detailed, high-resolution map of the entire planet,” Edmonds noted. As scientists study the incredible data returned by MESSENGER, it becomes important to give names to surface features that are of special scientific interest. Having names for landforms such as mountains, craters, and cliffs makes it easier for scientists and others to communicate.
Bottom line: The outreach team of NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft has organized a competition to name five impact craters on Mercury. Submit your ideas December 15, 2014, to January 15, 2015. Finalists go to the IAU for selection of the five winners. Click here for more information about how to enter.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.