Can I pay a fee and officially name a crater or other type of surface feature on Mars and other planets, the asteroids, moons and other solar system objects?
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature provides a unique system of official names for planetary surface features, natural satellites, dwarf planets, and planetary rings for the benefit of the international science community, educators, and the general public. A single system of official names is critical for effective scientific communication. The IAU first became involved with planet and satellite nomenclature in 1919 to standardize the multiple, confusing systems of nomenclature for the Moon that were then in use. Since that time, the IAU has provided the single, reliable, official catalog of surface feature names, thus enabling successful international communication. Names purchased through a commercial enterprise have (1) 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. The IAU disassociates itself entirely from the commercial practice of selling names. Please visit the Mars portion of the IAU Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature for the official list of named features on Mars.
What is a moon?
A solid object in orbit around a planet, dwarf planet, minor planet, or transneptunian object is called a "satellite." A natural satellite is sometimes referred to as a "moon" in popular usage. However, Earth's own satellite is called the "Moon" in both scientific and popular usage.
Why doesn't the Moon have a name?
The Moon does, of course, have a name - the Moon. It is known by many names in various languages - Luna (Latin, Spanish, Italian, and Russian), Mond (German), Lune (French), etc. Our moon was the first known moon. When we discovered that other planets had moons, they were given different names in order to distinguish them from our moon.
Can I pay a fee and name a star?
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) names celestial bodies and the surface features on those bodies. There are a few exceptions, but stars are generally given numbers, not names. The IAU website contains a page that discusses the idea of "buying" star names.
Can I buy property on the Moon?
The following statement concerning "purchasing lunar real estate" is found on the IAU web page (Buying Star Names).
"As an international scientific organization, the IAU dissociates itself entirely from the commercial practice of "selling" fictitious star names or "real estate" on other planets or moons in the Solar System."
How did Earth get its name?
Unlike the other planets in our Solar System, the name 'Earth' does not come from Greek or Roman mythology. The word 'earth' comes instead from German and English origins, like the German 'Erde.' The Nine Planets website contains a nice page about planetary linguistics that shows the names for the planets in our Solar System in different languages.
Who names asteroids, and is there a list of all of the asteroid names?
Planetary features are named to enable and enhance effective communication. When new images of the surface of a body are received, scientists study the features found in these images and publish papers and maps. It can be cumbersome to repeatedly refer to features by their latitudes and longitudes, so they are given names. The names contained in the Gazetteer come from cultures all over the world, and are intended for use by the world-wide scientific community to promote continuity in the scientific literature.
How are features named?
The approval process for planetary surface feature names is described on the Gazetteer page How Names are Approved.
Can I name a planetary feature after a loved one?
Planetary surface features are named "only when they have special scientific interest, and when the naming of such features is useful to the scientific and cartographic communities at large." The IAU rules about naming planetary surface features can be found on the Gazetteer page IAU Rules and conventions.
How can I request that a planetary feature be named?
If you are a member of the science community and have a specific scientific need to name a planetary surface feature, you can request that the feature be named by filling out the Name Request Form.
Will you add a link to the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature to a translation of part or all of the Gazetteer?
Can I use the images and/or data in the Gazetteer and if so, how should I credit them?
Everything in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature is in the public domain. The following citation could be used:
International Astronomical Union Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature. "Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature." (access date). http://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/.
If a surface feature is named after a person who later turns out to have a darker side to their character, can that feature be renamed after somebody else?
The IAU does not name any planetary surface features, satellites or rings to commemorate people. If a person's name is used, it was chosen because of scientific need, and to fit the theme that was defined for naming that type of landmark. The IAU avoids changing any planetary names because there are publications as well as old maps and globes with those names, and it causes confusion in the literature and research to change them. Therefore, we only recommend changing a name if absolutely and demonstratively required.