Scientists of the Magellan Project, in association with the U.S. Geological Survey, are inviting the public to propose names of notable women for the many impact craters and large volcanic vents being discovered on Venus by the Magellan spacecraft's imaging radar.
"We want everyone, especially students, to share in the adventure of discovery," said Magellan Project Scientist Dr. Steve Saunders. He said that the impact craters on Venus are some of the most beautiful features in the solar system. They form somewhat randomly in time and space when an asteroid or very large comet collides with Venus' surface.
"The flower-like symmetry of impact craters evidences the enormous energy of these infrequent events," he said. "A modest 20-mile-diameter crater represents more energy than is contained in all the arsenals on Earth."
Names sent to the Magellan Project offices at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be compiled for the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature, a committee of the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The IAU gives final approval to names for bodies in the solar system.
Because the IAU meets only every 3 years and its next meeting is in July, 1991, names newly proposed for Venusian features will not be considered until the following meeting in 1994. But names proposed this year, if accepted as provisional by the nomenclature committee, may be used on published maps and in articles, pending final approval by the IAU.
Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey's Flagstaff, Ariz., field office said they expect names for 4000 or more features on Venus are likely to be required in the coming decade. Of those features, at least 900 are expected to be impact craters. Craters and volcanic calderas, called "paterae", on Venus are named for notable, actual women.
Indeed, all features on Venus are named for women, with only three exceptions. They are Maxwell Montes, named years ago for early radar pioneer James Maxwell, and Alpha Regio and Beta Regio. "The mapping of Venus is unique in the history of cartography," said USGS cartographers Ray Batson and Joel Russell. "Never has so much territory been discovered and mapped in so short a period of time."
The process of naming features on Venus began in the 1960s with early radar images taken from Earth. It continued through radar mapping spacecraft expeditions of the United States and Soviet Union.
But, they said, the Magellan mission is resolving features 25 times smaller than those mapped previously and its radar data will cover an area nearly equivalent to that of the continents and the ocean floors on Earth.
Many features on Venus, by international agreement, are named for goddesses of ancient religions and cultures. But craters and volcanic calderas or vents, the paterae, are named for actual women.
There are certain stipulations, however. For example, women must have been deceased for at least three years, and must have been in some way notable or worthy of the honor.
Names of military or political figures of the 19th and 20th Centuries are specifically forbidden under rules of the IAU, as are the names of persons prominent in any of the six main living religions. Names of a specific national significance also are not allowed.
When the name is submitted, her birth and death years and a one or two sentence written rationale for the honor should be given, along with a reference book citation, if available.
The Magellan Project members asks that submissions be sent to:
Magellan Project Office
Mail Stop 230-201
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
4800 Oak Grove Dr.
Pasadena, Calif. 91109.
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