7 – 18 August 2000
Media release
From Jacqueline Mitton (Meeting Press Officer)
phone: +44 (0)1223 564914
Phone contact 7 – 16 August [Meeting Press Room]
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Date released: 15 August 2000
Characters from the Tempest, the late Carl Sagan and the 18th century Astronomer Royal Nathaniel Bliss are among dozens of new names assigned to moons and features on moons and planets in the solar system and approved today at the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in Manchester. The IAU is the only body with international authority to name astronomical bodies and features on them. Names are confirmed every three years, at each General Assembly.
The working group for planetary system nomenclature (WGPSN, which includes the UK astronomer and broadcaster, Dr. Patrick Moore) examines every proposal. The committee selected the names after submissions from the discoverers, cartographers and spaceflight engineers investigating new satellites, asteroids and craters throughout the solar system. Along with Earth-based observatories, space probes such as Galileo and Clementine have discovered a plethora of new moons, craters and other features, all of which need names for the benefit of present-day astronomers and any future explorers.
Shakespeare’s play "The Tempest" had already been the inspiration for the names of some of the moons of Uranus discovered earlier, such as Ariel and Miranda. They will now be joined by Prospero, the magician master of the island in the play, Setebos who enslaves Ariel, and Stephano, the ship’s butler. These names replace the less interesting temporary designations, S/1999 U3, U1 and U2 respectively. The names Caliban and Sycorax, provisionally given to two moons of Uranus discovered in 1997, were also formally confirmed.
In the asteroid belt, Eugenia’s recently discovered satellite is named Petit-Prince after the son of Eugenie, the empress of Napoleon III. Craters on the dark asteroid Mathilde are named after coal basins around the world.
Nathaniel Bliss, the 4th Astronomer Royal who died after just 18 months in his post at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich will give his name to a lunar ring between the lunar crater Plato and Mt. Piton. Bliss, who served from 1762-1764, was until now the only Astronomer Royal without the honour of a named body or feature.
The late Carl Sagan, who is remembered for his contributions to planetary research and as one of the most successful popularisers of astronomy will be honoured with a 95-km-wide crater near the equator on the planet Mars.
Features on the near-Earth asteroid Eros, currently being observed by the orbiting NEAR-Shoemaker spacecraft, are to be named after great lovers in history and literature. They include Cupid, Lolita and Don Quixote. Galileo, the first astronomer to use a telescope, probably would not have approved. In the 17th century he refused to accept the proposed names of Jupiter’s largest satellites as they commemorated the illicit lovers of Jupiter in classical mythology.