The Martian Mountain Near Curiosity/MSL: Aeolis Mons or Mount Sharp?

The popular astronomy magazine Sky & Telescope (of which I am a proud subscriber) recently posted a public poll at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/community/skyblog/newsblog/Curiosity....

The question concerns the name of the three-mile-high mountain inside Gale Crater on Mars.  For those who missed it, that's the crater in which the roving Mars Science Lab "Curiosity" recently landed in exhilarating and memorable fashion.

The International Astronomical Union, the widely-recognized governing body for this sort of thing, requires that extraterrestrial mountains over a certain size be given names from Greek mythology.  Hence the name Aeolis Mons, the etymology and history of which you can read about at the link above.

However, scientists affiliated with the MSL/Curiosity program have taken to calling the feature "Mount Sharp" in honor of a recently-deceased geologist named Robert Sharp whom many of the scientists knew and respected.

S&T's poll asks people to vote for which of these two names they prefer.  The poll will likely not influence the mountain's ultimate designation, but I thought the question might be of interest to my fellow atheists and space geeks.

I would imagine that some atheists, possibly even a majority, wouldn't mind seeing a real scientist honored instead of an imaginary location from Greek myth.  I, however, voted for Aeolis Mons.  I think consistency is important, and for hundreds of years astronomers have drawn names from classical mythology.  Dead religions don't rankle my objectivist, rationalist sentiments the way that living religions do, and in fact I rather enjoy premodern mythology from a literary perspective.  "Mount Sharp" would be a fine informal name for the mountain in Gale Crater, but I'm not ready to cast aside longstanding IAU policies just yet.

How did you vote?

Tags: Aeolis, Crater, Curiosity, Gale, MSL, Mars, Martian, Mons, Mount, Sharp, More…Sky, Telescope, and, rover

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Why couldn't be both..? Many things have an official name and a non-official name. Show horses and show dogs are prime examples. Even the Sun has two names.. Officially it's SOL.. the unofficial common name is the Sun,. So I have no problem with the official name being Aeolis Mons and it being nicknamed Mount Sharp by the Curiosity Crew. :) 

I agree.  I suspect that's how it will play out.

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Posted by Quincy Maxwell on July 20, 2014 at 9:37pm 25 Comments

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