Mars Craters for Cash
March 12, 2014

IAU: Purchased Mars Crater Names Will Not Be Officially Adopted

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Bad news for those who spent $5 to have a Mars crater named after themselves, a significant other or a beloved pet: the International Astronomical Union (IAU) confirmed on Tuesday that those purchased names will not be allowed to appear on official maps and globes.

The naming program, announced last month by science advocacy start-up Uwingu, allowed users to go online and pay $5 for the right to place a moniker on one of the 500,000 unnamed craters on the Red Planet. The proceeds, the organization said, would go towards “grants for space research and education — meaning that with every name you contribute you’ll be helping to fuel future space activities.”

However, in their statement, the IAU said that programs such as Uwingu’s “capitalize on the public’s interest in space and astronomy” and “[put] a price tag on naming space objects and their features, such as Mars craters.” Doing so goes against “the spirit of free and equal access to space, as well as against internationally recognized standards,” the group added, and as such will not be allowed to appear on sanctioned maps.

“In order to make sure that all scientists, educators and the general public ‘speak the same language’, astronomers from the International Astronomical Union have agreed on common standards for naming space objects, features or phenomena so that they can be easily located, described, and discussed,” the agency said. “Only those features that are deemed to be of significance to science are given a name by the community.”

Currently, IAU rules prevent members of the general public to request that a specific feature on a planet or other celestial body be named, though they are allowed to suggest that certain names be given consideration for formal adoption. In addition, space agencies or the scientists that discover features can ask for public input for official names, as was the case with the NASA Magellan Venus mapping mission that was launched in 1989.

“In 1919, when the IAU was founded, it was given the official mission to establish internationally recognized planet and satellite nomenclature,” the agency said. “The objective at the time was to standardize the various confusing systems of nomenclature for the Moon that were then in use. Since that time, the IAU has succeeded in constructing a single, reliable, official catalogue of surface feature names.”

It is unclear if the IAU’s announcement would have any impact on Uwingu’s naming program, which remained active as of press time. The IAU has already officially named approximately 15,000 craters on Mars, all of which the company said were so labeled in their database and were off-limits to those participating in the naming program.

Uwingu said that duplicate names were permissible, as long as the craters in question were located in different districts. However, the firm said that it would not allow any names deemed offensive, profane or pejorative. Anyone purchasing a crater name would be presented with an electronic certificate with the name of the donor, name of the crater and the details of the newly named crater in exchange for their $5 payment.

In 2013, the company held a similar program for naming exoplanets, or worlds located beyond our solar system. That controversial campaign was also criticized by international organization, which said that it “dissociates itself entirely from the commercial practice of selling names of planets, stars or even ‘real estate´ on other planets or moons. These practices will not be recognized by the IAU and their alternative naming schemes cannot be adopted.”