Scientists seek divine names for Venus sites

March 31, 1991|By Newsday

If you happen to know the names of 800 sky goddesses and 400 goddesses of the hunt, Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., wants to hear from you immediately.

The International Astronomical Union, which names everything found in the heavens, will meet in July to name the continents, canyons, mountains and craters of Venus. Under international agreement, Venusian features must be named after females, real or fictional.

Labeling the landmarks seemed a reasonable task when astronomers had to deal only with what they could see with earthbound telescopes.

But now radar images of thousands of new Venusian features flood the Jet Propulsion Laboratory from its Magellan spacecraft. And the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as the discoverer of these new landmarks, must suggest names for them.

Several thousand names are needed, in specific categories. For example, under the international conventions, the 1,000 craters must be named after famous deceased women who were not politicians during the last several hundred years or representatives of the seven leading religions. Already taken are Gertrude Stein (but not Alice B. Toklas), Isadora Duncan, Louisa May Alcott and Margaret Mead.

Continents must be named after love goddesses (the largest has been dubbed Aphrodite, and movie stars are excluded). Canyons must be named after goddesses of the hunt; coronas (circular geological structures) after fertility goddesses; small hills after sea goddesses; and plains after mythological heroines (Guinevere and Atalanta are taken).

To nominate a name, write Venus Names, Mail Stop 230-201, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, Calif. 91109.

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