by Ken Edgett, ASU
When I show Arizonans a globe of the planet Mars, one of the first things I hear comments on is a place labeled "Tempe Terra." Did someone name a place on Mars after Tempe, Arizona, the site of ASU's Mars Global Surveyor TES project?
Actually, Tempe is a classic name-- given to the beautiful valley found south of Mount Olympus, the mythical home of the ancient Greek gods. The name Tempe was adopted in 1958 by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to indicate a region on Mars centered at 40 N, 70.0 W. Astronomers had mapped this and other regions on Mars using telescopes back in the 1800's.
Many features have been named on Mars, especially since Mariner 9 provided a global map in 1972. Many craters are named after people who contributed to the exploration of Mars. For example, in 1994 the IAU honored Robert A. Heinlein with a 52-mile diameter crater at 64.6 S, 243.8 W. Heinlein was a major science fiction writer in this century-- famous novels include Red Planet (1949) and Stranger in a Strange Land (1961). Heinlein died in 1988.
Where do they get the names for the features on Mars? Or other planets, for that matter?
People propose them to the IAU. You can propose names yourself! You might even find your name among those on another planet. Many craters on Venus have women's first names-- for example, there is a crater named "Heather" and another one named "Heidi"!
For more information on how the names are picked, how you can contribute, and of course a comprehensive list of approved planetary names, on the Internet see: http://wwwflag.wr.usgs.gov/nomen/nomen.html This site is at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, AZ.
Portion of a map of the planet Mars, courtesy U.S. Geological Survey.