The Body That Names Space Things Doesn't Want You Paying to Name Martian Craters

But they're just a bunch of frog-eating eggheads, so why listen?

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Mar 13 2014, 12:30pm
Image: Viking 1 Orbiter/Wikimedia Commons

While we here at Motherboard are skeptical about paying some company to say that you named a crater on Mars, the actual internationally recognized body tasked with naming extraterrestrial features is just pissed.

In response to Uwingu’s offer to sell naming rights to Martian craters and regions for between $5 and $10,000, the International Astronomical Union issued a press release yesterday that called the practice “against the spirit of free and equal access to space, as well as against internationally recognised standards.”

The press release also pointed out that the IAU basically exists for this purpose, so Uwingu can kindly step off. “In 1919, when the IAU was founded, it was given the official mission to establish internationally recognised planet and satellite nomenclature,” the release stated. “Since that time, the IAU has succeeded in constructing a single, reliable, official catalogue of surface feature names, thus enabling successful international public and scientific communication. The IAU played a key role in getting the USSR and the USA to agree on naming rules for lunar features even during the space race of the sixties.”

So, in review, the IAU stands for free, objective, scientific nomenclature, which was able to overcome the Cold War. Names that are “purchased through a commercial enterprise: (1) have no formal or official status, (2) will not be added to the official database or maps, and (3) carry the potential to create confusion within the broader science community and the public,” as the USGS’s Astrogeology website explains. Hence the IAU “dissociates itself entirely from the commercial practice of selling names.”

Screengrab: Uwingu

Uwingu, for its part, doesn’t seem interested in currying the IAU’s favor, and basically called the IAU a bunch of elitists. Always a nice rhetorical move.

"The IAU needs to stop being the self-licking ice cream cone of the scientific community, and recognize that as long as its existence is merely to gratify its own puritanical principles and sense of elitism, it is not going to be a part of the next wave of space exploration," Uwingu’s cofounder Doug Griffith told NBC News. "That will be done by others who recognize that science exists for the benefit of the world, not for the scientists."

The organization Citizens in Space took it another step further and bludgened the IAU’s case with a throwback circa-2003 insult:

The International Astronomical Union is based in France, a country which has never landed a space probe on Mars. It is a private organization, with no legal authority. Its claim to a monopoly on naming rights seems to be based primarily on the fact that its members have a large number of PhDs.

Buncha frog-eating eggheads in that IAU. What’s more, it also took away Pluto’s planet status!

Perhaps in spite of themselves, both Griffith and Citizens in Space raise a good point—names are fluid. “When Mars is settled by human beings, the settlers will bestow their own names on local features (as humans always do),” Citizens in Space’s post states. “It is those names, not the formal scientific names bestowed by IAU or the informal names sold by Uwingu, that will go down in history books.”

True enough. Although it sure makes me less inclined to pay to name a crater.