Name A Crater on MercuryArchive

Immortalize an important person in the Arts and Humanities from any nation or cultural group by having a crater on the planet Mercury named in their honor!  The MESSENGER Team is seeking help from all Earthlings to suggest names for five impact craters on Mercury.  We will accept submissions beginning midnight (00:00 UTC) December 15, 2014 until January 15, 2015 (23:59 UTC).  All entries will be reviewed by Team representatives and expert panels.  Then, 15 finalist names will be submitted to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) for selection of the 5 winners.  Winning submissions will be announced by the IAU to coincide with MESSENGER’s End of Mission Operations in late March/April 2015.

MESSENGER Makes History

NASA’s robotic MESSENGER spacecraft made history in March 2011 when it became the first to orbit the planet Mercury.  For over 3 years, MESSENGER has remotely collected and transmitted back information about the planet closest to the Sun.  The findings have revolutionized our thinking about Mercury's interior structure, its formation, relation to the other planets, geology, and space environment. Remarkably, MESSENGER has confirmed that deposits of water ice are lurking within craters near the planet's poles that are permanently shadowed from the Sun's rays. Despite Mercury's small size, it has an internally generated magnetic field similar to Earth's (whereas Venus and Mars do not have magnetic fields today). Mercury's surface has been reshaped by gigantic eruptions of lava, as well as episodes of explosive volcanism. MESSENGER's chemical sensors indicate that Mercury is far richer in elements that were not expected to be plentiful on a planet that formed so close to the Sun. And discovery of a curious landform called "hollows" suggests that in some places solid rock is being lost to space in a process similar to sublimation.

Why Name Features?

Imaging of the planet is an important part of the Mission. MESSENGER was originally planned to take 2,500 images of the planet but has actually sent back more than 250,000!  We now have a detailed, high-resolution map of the entire planet.  Until MESSENGER, no spacecraft had visited Mercury since Mariner 10 flew by in the mid-1970s.  Mariner 10 imaged only 45% of the surface, and at much lower resolution than MESSENGER has captured from orbit.  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 like mountains, craters, and cliffs makes it easier for scientists and others to communicate. For example, it is easier to say "Mt. Everest" rather than "the 8,484 meter peak located at 27°59′17″ N,  86°55′31″ E."


MESSENGER has surpassed its originally planned primary mission by three years. This brave little craft, not much bigger than a VW Bug, has travelled over 8 billion miles since 2004—getting to the planet and then in orbit.  However, it cannot remain in orbit indefinitely because of the dwindling amount of fuel remaining onboard.  Our engineers are working hard to keep it orbiting as long as possible, but when the needle hits empty near the end of March 2015, the effects of the Sun’s gravity will take over and cause MESSENGER to crash onto the planet (no, there are no people on board!).  We would like to draw international attention to the achievements of the spacecraft and the guiding engineers and scientists on Earth who have made the MESSENGER Mission so outstandingly successful.

Competition Rules

You have a chance to suggest a name for one of Mercury’s impact craters!  

The MESSENGER science team has selected five craters of particular geological interest for this contest. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is the global authority in charge of assigning official names to features on the planets. According to the IAU rules for Mercury, impact craters are named in honor of people who have made outstanding or fundamental contributions to the Arts and Humanities (visual artists, writers, poets, dancers, architects, musicians, composers and so on).  The person must have been recognized as an art-historically significant figure for more than 50 years and must have been dead for at least three years.  We are particularly interested in submissions that honor people from nations and cultural groups that are under-represented amongst the currently-named craters.  See the current list of named Mercury craters.

It is also essential that there are no other features in the Solar System with the same name. For example, Ansel Adams is not eligible because there is a feature on the Moon with the name ‘Adams’ (even though it was not named for Ansel!). Check your idea against the list of named Solar System features and enter the name in the Search By Feature Name box in the upper right corner.  

Lastly, the name should not have any political, religious or military significance.

Who May Enter?

Competition is open to all Earth citizens except for members of MESSENGER's Education and Public Outreach team.