How to imagine 10 dimensions

How to name a planet

As most astronophiles now know, Pluto’s still a planet. While reading a recent story on the Pluto debate in The New Yorker (sorry, no link because the story’s not online), I happened upon a description of the rules that govern the naming of new planets — and their craters, rings, and other features.

As it turns out, they’re incredibly surreal. Say you’re the lucky astronomer who’s just discovered a new chasm on Venus. What are you permitted to call it? According to the International Astronomical Union, the only permitted names are “Goddesses of hunt” or “moon goddesses.” Maybe you’ve found a bright spot on Ganymede? You can name it after any “Gods and characters of frost, snow, cold, and sleet from myths and folktales of cultures of the Far North.”

The full list of rules is online here. Some of my favorites include:

Small craters of Mars: “Villages of the world with a population of less than 100,000.”

Craters on the moon: “Deceased American astronauts are commemorated by craters in and around the crater Apollo. Appropriate locations will be provided in the future for other space-faring nations should they also suffer fatalities.”

Large ringed features on Callisto: “Places (other than rivers, valleys and ravines) from myths and folktales of cultures of the Far North.”

Small satellites of Uranus: “Heroines from Shakespeare and Pope.”

Small satellites of Neptune: “Gods and goddesses associated with Neptune/Poseidon mythology or generic mythological aquatic beings.”

As I’ve said before, I truly love the culture of astronomers. It’s a nuanced blend of rigorous scientific discipline and baked-out-of-their-minds stoner logic. Half the guys, I swear, if they weren’t mapping the stars with billion-dollar telescopes, they’d be out in California painting unicorns on the sides of vans.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Search This Site


I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

More of Me


Recent Comments

Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson