For the past ninety years, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has been naming all of the celestial bodies found in our universe. The alphanumeric proper names all look like suitable passwords for important email accounts, but more common names do catch on for some. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be a star, asteroid or planet being named. Sometimes it’s just a crater. C-R-A. A group of Mercury’s craters to be exact. T-E-R. Are you grasping on that one of these was named after the cr(e)ater of a very famous M-O-U-S-E? Try not to shriek at all the wordplay just then.
NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft has been in Mercury’s orbit since March 2011, after years of flying by the planet. For nine of Mercury’s impact craters, the MESSENGER’s Science Team were allowed by the IAU to name them after time-spanning artists from the world over. “The MESSENGER team appreciates the timely approval by IAU of the names for this new list of impact craters,” says ESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “Because these features are areas of active geological study by our team, the formal names will make it easier to communicate our findings to colleagues in the planetary sciences. More importantly, the naming of these features marks another opportunity to honor those on our planet who have advanced the arts across many eras and cultures.” The group joins 86 others named since MESSENGER’s first fly-by.
The most famous of the group is none other than Walt Disney (1901-1966), whose landmark work in animation and theme parks mean his name is probably spoken aloud in some capacity once every few milliseconds. I wonder if they’ll set up a Victrola to play “It’s a Smaller World Than Ours After All.” Speaking of music, Chicago blues maestro Muddy Waters (1915-1983) was also recognized, as were pianist and ragtime pioneer Scott Joplin (1868-1917) and European jazz musician Krzysztof Komeda (1931-1969), responsible for the haunting scores for Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Knife in the Water, among others.
To go back to art, other craters were named for American realist painter and watercolorist Edward Hopper (1882-1967), Japanese political caricaturist Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-1889), the far ahead of her time Russian avant-garde artist/designer Lyubov Popova (1889-1924), and Katarzyna Kobro (1898-1951), whose beautifully assorted works of odd shapes and abstract bodies challenged traditional techniques at the time.
If there are any craters found where one large rounded side gradually peters off with a few rounded spikes here and there, might I offer up the name Spielberg?