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Dustup arises over who gets to name craters on Mars


NBC News reported in a March 11, 2014 story about a dust up that pits the International Astronomical Union against a campaign on Uwingu to raise funds for science education and research by allowing people to pay for suggestions on what to name some 500,000 known craters on Mars. The IAU maintains that the right to name anything beyond Earth is reserved to the IAU. Uwingu suggests that the IAU is being a bunch of elitists.

It may be just a coincidence that Alan Stern, the principle investigator for the New Horizons expedition to Pluto, has disagreed with the IAU’s downgrading Pluto from a planet to a “dwarf planet.”

The question thus has been asked, who gets to name things in space? Should it be a group of international astronomers or some other body, perhaps along the lines of Uwingu, using the process to raise funds for worthy things like educating future scientists and funding research?

Neither, suggests a group called Citizens in Space. They maintain that the decisions of what to name features on Mars will made by the first Martian settlers. Rather cheekily, the group suggests rustic names like “Broken Axel Crater.”

There is some earthly precedence for this. When former colonies of European countries achieved independence the new governments renamed a number of places to suit their own cultures. Hence Salisbury, Rhodesia became Harare, Zimbabwe and Bombay in India became Mumbai. It will certainly be an act of independence if the first Martians decide to give the middle finger to the Mother Planet and name places on their planet to suit themselves.