Name A Crater On Mercury

Image Credit: NASA

Image Credit: NASA

January 12, 2015 – To celebrate 10 years of science, the Mercury MESSENGER team is sponsoring a contest to name five of planet Mercury’s impact craters. The MESSENGER science team has selected craters of particular geological interest for the contest, and the competition to name them is open to all Earthlings.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is the global authority in charge of assigning official names to features on the planets. According to the IAU rules for Mercury, impact craters are named in honor of people who have made outstanding or fundamental contributions to the Arts and Humanities (visual artists, writers, poets, dancers, architects, musicians, composers and so on).  The person must have been recognized as an art-historically significant figure for more than 50 years and must have been dead for at least three years.

It’s essential that there are no other features in the Solar System with the same name. For example, Ansel Adams is not eligible because there is a feature on the Moon with the name ‘Adams’ (even though it was not named for Ansel!). Check your idea against the list of named Solar System features and enter the name in the Search By Feature Name box in the upper right corner. Lastly, the name should not have any political, religious or military significance.

All entries will be reviewed by MESSENGER Team representatives followed by consideration by expert review panels.  A short list of 15 names (3 names per crater) will be submitted to the IAU who will make the final selection of one name for each crater.  IAU decisions will be final.  

MESSENGER Makes History

NASA’s robotic MESSENGER spacecraft blasted off on a United Launch Alliance Delta II on August 3, 2004 and made history in March 2011 when it became the first spacecraft to orbit the planet Mercury.

For over 3 years, MESSENGER has remotely collected and transmitted back information about the planet closest to the Sun. The findings have revolutionized our thinking about Mercury’s interior structure, its formation, relation to the other planets, geology, and space environment.

Remarkably, MESSENGER has confirmed that deposits of water ice are lurking within craters near the planet’s poles that are permanently shadowed from the Sun’s rays. Despite Mercury’s small size, it has an internally generated magnetic field similar to Earth’s (whereas Venus and Mars do not have magnetic fields today). Mercury’s surface has been reshaped by gigantic eruptions of lava, as well as episodes of explosive volcanism. MESSENGER’s chemical sensors indicate that Mercury is far richer in elements that were not expected to be plentiful on a planet that formed so close to the Sun. And discovery of a curious landform called “hollows” suggests that in some places solid rock is being lost to space in a process similar to sublimation.

The car-sized MESSENGER carries seven instruments — a camera, a magnetometer, an altimeter and four spectrometers. The Mercury Atmospheric and Surface Composition Spectrometer, or MASCS, was built by CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. LASP Director Daniel Baker is a co-investigator on the MESSENGER mission. Boulder’s Southwest Research Institute has also been involved in the mission.

Why Name Features?

Imaging of the planet is an important part of the Mission. MESSENGER was originally planned to take 2,500 images of the planet but has actually sent back more than 250,000!  We now have a detailed, high-resolution map of the entire planet.  Until MESSENGER, no spacecraft had visited Mercury since Mariner 10 flew by in the mid-1970s.  Mariner 10 imaged only 45% of the surface, and at much lower resolution than MESSENGER has captured from orbit.  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 like mountains, craters, and cliffs makes it easier for scientists and others to communicate. For example, it is easier to say “Mt. Everest” rather than “the 8,484 meter peak located at 27°59′17″ N,  86°55′31″ E.”


MESSENGER has surpassed its originally planned primary mission by three years. The spacecraft has travelled over 8 billion miles since 2004. However, it cannot remain in orbit indefinitely because of the dwindling amount of fuel remaining onboard. Engineers are working hard to keep it orbiting as long as possible, but when it runs out of fuel near the end of March 2015, the effects of the Sun’s gravity will take over and MESSENGER will crash onto the planet. This competition will celebrate the achievements of the spacecraft and the guiding engineers and scientists on Earth who have made the MESSENGER Mission so outstandingly successful.

The deadline to submit your entry is January 15 at 2359 UTC. To enter visit:

Winning submissions will be announced by the IAU to coincide with MESSENGER’s End of Mission Operations in late March/April 2015.