It’s unlikely that Mercury’s surface is populated with tangerine trees and marmalade skies, but the famous British musician who coined that phrase now has a physical presence on the planet closest to the Sun. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has named an impact crater on the planet after John Lennon, the British pop music sensation who helped make The Beatles the most popular group of their generation.
Lennon is one of ten newly named craters on the planet, joining 114 other craters named since NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft's first Mercury flyby in January 2008.
“The MESSENGER team is delighted that the IAU has named an additional 10 impact craters on Mercury,” said MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon of Columbia University, who suggested Lennon. “We are particularly pleased that eight of the 10 individuals honored made all or many of their artistic contributions in the Twentieth Century, the same century in which the MESSENGER mission was conceived, proposed, and approved for flight. Imagine.”
The IAU has been the arbiter of planetary and satellite nomenclature since its inception in 1919. In keeping with the established naming theme for craters on Mercury, all of the newly designated features are named after “deceased artists, musicians, painters, and authors who have made outstanding or fundamental contributions to their field and have been recognized as art historically significant figures for more than 50 years.”
While the notoriety and fame of the namesakes is fun, David Blewett, a MESSENGER participating scientist, says there is a practical reason for naming craters. “After a while, identifying craters by their latitude and longitude becomes laborious,” Blewett says. “Assigning names to the craters makes it easier for scientists to communicate about them, share notes and observations.”
In addition to Lennon, the newly named craters are:
- Barney, for Natalie Clifford Barney (1876-1972), an American-French playwright, poet, and novelist.
- Berlioz, for Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), a French Romantic composer best known for his compositions Symphonie fantastique and Grande messe des morts.
- Calder, for Alexander Calder (1898-1976), an American sculptor best known as the originator of the mobile, a type of kinetic sculpture made with delicately balanced or suspended components that move in response to motor power or air currents.
- Capote, for Truman Capote (1924-1984), an American author whose short stories, novels, plays, and nonfiction include the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's and the true-crime novel In Cold Blood.
- Caruso, for Enrico Caruso (1873-1921), an Italian tenor who sang to great acclaim at the major opera houses of Europe and the Americas and appeared in a wide variety of roles from the Italian and French repertoires that ranged from the lyric to the dramatic.
- Ensor, for James Sidney Ensor (1860-1949), a Belgian painter and printmaker, considered an important influence on expressionism and surrealism.
- Giambologna, for Jean Boulogne Giambologna (1529-1608), a Dutch sculptor known for his marble and bronze statuary in a late Renaissance or Mannerist style.
- Remarque, for Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970), a German author best known for his novel All Quiet on the Western Front, which depicted the horrors of war from the viewpoint of young German soldiers.
- Vieira da Silva, for Maria Elena Vieira da Silva (1908-1992), a Portuguese-born French painter of intricate, semiabstract compositions.
More information about the names of features on Mercury and the other objects in the Solar System can be found at the U.S. Geological Survey's planetary nomenclature web site: http://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/index.html.