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Astronomical Authority Rejects New Mars Naming Campaign

First Posted: Mar 12, 2014 04:02 PM EDT
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The International Astronomical Union, which officially bestows names on celestial objects, wants to keep a commercial effort to name craters and other surface phenomena on Mars grounded.

The organization -- which claims over 10,500 individual members in 94 countries and is guided by its mission "to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects," as it reads on the IAU Website -- is balking at an effort by start-up Uwingu that offers naming rights to features on the Martian surface for a price.

Uwingu, which means "fly" in Swahili, was launched in Aug. 2012 as an alternative way to secure money for space research and education through crowdsourcing initiatives like the crater-naming appeal.

The company states up front that the names in question -- starting at $5 for the smallest craters and larger sums to bigger objects ---will not be officially recognized by the scientific community, nor included in any authoritative registries for extraterrestrial names.

However, the Uwingu does promise to incorporate the purchased name on all future versions of the Martian maps it generates -- with the hopeful expectation that at least some of the new monikers will eventually be used enough by folks in the space field that they end up on official research maps.

Not a chance, the IAU said in a statement posted on its Website today.

"Recently initiatives that capitalize on the public's interest in space and astronomy have proliferated, some putting a price tag on naming space objects and their features, such as Mars craters," the statement said. "The International Astronomical Union would like to emphasize that such initiatives go against the spirit of free and equal access to space, as well as against internationally recognized standards. Hence no purchased names can ever be used on official maps and globes."

The IAU "encourages the public to become involved in the naming process of space objects and their features by following the officially recognized ---and free---methods," the statement continued. "In order to make sure that all scientists, educators and the general public 'speak the same language.' astronomers from the International Astronomical Union have agreed on common standards for naming space objects, features or phenomena so that they can be easily located, described, and discussed ... Only those features that are deemed to be of significance to science are given a name by the community, thus leaving other features to be named by future generations."

Critics of the space establishment called the IAU's objections to the innovative research funding program short-sighted and boring.

Uwingu itself issued a new release about the Mars naming effort that didn't address the IAU's objections at all.

"Uwingu's Mars map grandfathers in existing named craters on Mars, opening up the remaining 500,000+ scientifically catalogued but as-yet unnamed craters for naming by people around the globe," the company's statement said.

"In its first 10 days after the debut of the Mars Crater Mapping Project, Uwingu's newsletter subscriptions have skyrocketed almost 400 percent to over 10,000, its Klout web score and Facebook following have each risen 50 percent and over 50,000 unique web page visits have been logged. In those same 10 days, over 7,000 crate name purchases have been made ... about half the number of crater names made by [the official] naming processes over the entire past 50 years."

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