Name That Planet!


Liam asked about available names for celestial bodies. The IAU, of 12-planet proposal fame, has set up these conventions among others, for the naming of extra-terrestrial objects: (Wikipedia sums it up here.)

A few hundred bright stars have Arabic names. You see, the Muslims, aside from their ambitions of world conquest, also applied themselves to the study of astronomy. Check them out here. Stars are also designated by a Greek letter or number, plus the Latin genitive of the constellation. Betelgeuse, for example, is also Alpha Orionis, or “Orion’s brightest star.”

Planet names are taken from Roman/Greek mythology. Although there was some discussion about the matter after Uranus was discovered in 1781. William Herschel of England discovered the 7th planet and his choice for a name was Georgium Sidus, or (King) George’s celestial body. He lost thirteen colonies, I guess a faint green planet made up for it; I don’t know. By 1850, Uranus was the generally accepted name.

At present I don’t think the IAU has a standard for planetary naming. Lots of Roman gods and goddesses have been used for the early asteroids. Here’s the latest list. I’m not sure it’s reasonable to conclude that gods or goddesses of Roman/Greek paganism would be used for 2003 UB313 and future planets. Charon, companion of Pluto seems to be a rather minor figure compared to the other planets. And since they’ve also been designated as “plutons,” I suspect the naming convention will remain the same. Somehow I can’t see Vulcan or Apollo (though maybe Proserpina) used for objects cold enough to solidify any gas but helium.

Up till now, all Pluto-like bodies outside of Neptune’s orbit had a naming convention: creation deities in any world religion. Sedna (Inuit) and Quaoar (Tongva) were creation gods from Native American tribal religions. I suspect this tradition will continue.

The nomenclature for planetary features is interesting. Wikipedia summarizes it for you here. Some select items:

Craters of Mercury: Famous deceased artists, musicians, painters, authors. (Look out David Haas and Madonna!)
Small craters on Mars: Villages of the world with a population of less than 100,000 (Maybe Ave Maria Town, eh?)
Features on Jupiter’s moon Europa: people of things associated with the Europa myth or people or things associated with Celtic myths
Mimas, moon of Saturn: People and places from Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur legends (Baines translation)
Craters on the asteroid Gaspra: Spas of the world. I’m not kidding.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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