Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Jake, Glenelg, and Mugearite

Here is a great blog about the fun of names on Mars, particularly the rock named Jake.  

We name things on the MSL mission because it's easier to understand someone when they say "Jake" rather than "That rock we analyzed on sol, hummm, maybe sol 48.  The one that looked like a pyramid."  

Geologists do this with formations (groups of rocks) on Earth all the time.  Almost all formation names on Earth are taken from nearby places, a tradition also codified by official naming organizations such as the International Stratigraphic Commission.  We are now doing it on Mars, but we have to name the places before we can name the rocks.  

We're bootstrapping our way on the naming business.  First, we identified interesting geological formations on Earth that have the same name as a city with a population of <100,000 people.  We can then follow International Astronomical Union naming conventions and name a small crater after the city.  We then name the quad (a ~1.2 x 1.2 km2 area) containing the crater after the crater, which is named after the city, which has the same name as the geological formation, which is named after a place where the formation is found, which is named after a person, another place, or whatever it reminded the namer of...  This naming approach provides a very rich history from which people can make all sorts of interesting connections!  

I have to admit that the fact that we found mugearite on the way to Glenelg, both ultimately linked name-wise to the Isle of Skye, does seem like a "cosmic coincidence!"