The space agency has invited the public to vote on what the 5 craters should be called.
In order to celebrate 10 years of service from the agency’s MESSENGER spacecraft, NASA has asked the public to name the craters. The caveat is that the names must be related to a dead artist, writer or composer who was famous for at least half a century.
NASA’s poll: A tribute to MESSENGER
The poll will run for a month, starting December 15, and votes will be collected and counted by John Hopkins University and the Carnegie Institution for Science, before the International Astronomical Union (IAU) approves the names.
The IAU is responsible for the naming of space objects, and it has specified that the named writer, artist or musician must have died over 3 years ago in order to be eligible. Although you can submit your vote until January 15, results will not be announced until a few months later when the MESSENGER spacecraft is retired from service.
The MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) spacecraft has been gathering data since 2004, and started to orbit the planet in 2008. The orbiter is now approaching the end of its useful life, and will crash into Mercury’s surface next spring.
Such a long and fruitful career came as a surprise to scientists, who never predicted that it would succeed in sending back over 250,000 photos of Mercury, which have enabled NASA to draw a high-resolution map of the surface of the planet.
The spacecraft, which is about the same size as a Volkswagen Beetle, has flown more than 8 billion miles over the past decade. MESSENGER PR chief Julie Edmonds paid tribute to the “brave little craft,” before explaining the reasoning behind the poll:
“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 such as mountains, craters, and cliffs makes it easier for scientists and others to communicate.”
As well as an incredible amount of photos, MESSENGER has discovered water ice deposits at Mercury’s poles, witnessed the extraordinary electromagnetic activity in its atmosphere and measured meteor shower activity due to the comet Encke.