Name your own small hole on Mars before others do

2014-03-05 00:00

CAPE TOWN — If you have R50 spare and a stable Internet connection, you can name your own small hole on Mars. For about R50 000 you name a really big crater after yourself — all as part of a fund-raising mapping project run by the space-funding company Uwingu.

“This is the first people’s map of Mars, where anybody can play,” said Uwingu CEO Alan Stern, a former Nasa science chief who also heads the space agency’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. “It’s a very social thing.”

While he expects the project to provide “a sort of cultural snapshot, revealing what people are thinking about and what’s important to them at this moment”, people may not use discriminatory names when they choose any of the 50 000 craters on Mars.

Stern stressed that Uwingu (whose name means “sky” in Swahili) is not trying to supplant other Mars maps, such as the one generated by the United States Geological Survey. The 15 000 Mars features whose names have already been approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) will be grandfathered into Uwingu’s base map, officials said.

While the money will be used for official space research and education, Stern told the income from the naming project will also help create the Uwingu grant fund for people who have lost their jobs. “They have no place to go; it’s either Nasa, the National Science Foundation or you’re out of luck,” Stern said.

He said Uwingu differed from other companies “that sold stars” that people could not see on a map, and he hoped the project will see all of Mars’ catalogued craters named by the end of the year, helping to fill in a lot of gaps in Red Planet carto-graphy. He said names for other Red Planet features, such as canyons and mountains, will be solicited in the future.

Craters will be named on a first-come, first-served basis and if names are chosen that already exist, the same name can be allocated to another area of Mars.

The IAU had in the past 50 years named 15 000 craters, mountains and areas on Mars.

Meanwhile, Mars One plans to send the first people to Mars by 2023 as well as the first private robot in 2018. Mars One has agreed to use the completed Uwingu map in its plans to put people on Mars.

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