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Chapter 8
What's in a Name?


   One of the few, the immortal names,
   that were not born to die.
             -- Fitz-Greene Halleck

There is more than you might expect, if you are talking about the names of features on Venus. From the earliest times, Venus has been associated with goddesses of love and beauty. Mystery, another feminine attribute, is also evident -- a thick atmosphere of swirling clouds veils its surface from view.

It seems appropriate, then, that the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the governing body for planetary and satellite nomenclature, adopted a theme in keeping with the age-old feminine mystique of Venus: features would be named for women, both mythological and real, from the mythologies and histories of ethnic groups throughout the world (see Table 8-1).

Each feature name has two parts: a female name, e.g., "Aphrodite," plus a feature class, e.g., "Terra" (continent). Although most of the assigned names are female, three previously adopted names were retained. "Alpha" and "Beta," the first names applied to Venusian features, became "Alpha Regio" and 'Beta Regio," two areas of subdued to moderate topographic relief that rise above the widespread Venusian plains. "Maxwell" also was retained for "Maxwell Montes," the highest region on Venus. James Clerk Maxwell is thus the only man honored with a feature name. Those within the IAU who favored the retention of his name argued that all the early information about Venus, including its size, rotation, and major features, was obtained from radar observations, and that Maxwell formalized the mathematics of the principles that made these observations possible. The rest of the names are feminine, and they honor a worldwide assemblage of nationalities and ethnic groups, in accordance with IAU requirements.

     Table 8-1.  Categories for Naming Features on Venus
Feature          Definition                 Category
Chasmata         Canyons                Goddesses of hunt; moon
Colles           Small hills, knobs     Sea goddesses
Coronae          Ovoid-shaped features  Fertility goddesses
Craters (large)  Craters                Famous women
        (small)  Craters                Female first names
Dorsa            Ridges                 Sky goddesses
Lineae           Elongate markings      Goddesses of war
Montes           Mountains              Goddesses, miscellaneous
                                        (also, one male radar scientist)
Paterae          Irregularly shaped     Famous women
Planitae         Low plains             Mythological heroines
Planum           High Plain             Goddess of prosperity
Regiones         Areas of moderate      Giantesses and Titanesses
                 relief                 (also two Greek and
                                        alphanumeric designations)
Rupes            Scarps                 Goddesses of hearth and home
Tesserae         Polygonal ground;      Goddesses of fate or fortune
Terrae           Continents             Goddesses of love
Tholi            Domical hills          Goddesses, miscellaneous

An imaginary tour around the planet evokes memories of some of the most notable women of history and mythology. Continent-sized highland areas (terrae) are named for counterparts of Venus, the Roman goddess of love (see Figure 8-1). The northern highland, Ishtar Terra, honors the Babylonian goddess of love (and war). As early as 1800 B.C., the Babylonians gave the name of their goddess of love to the beautiful morning and evening "star." An ancient Babylonian psalm provides a glimpse of her:

     "By causing the heavens to tremble 
         and the Earth to quake,
     By the gleam which lightens the sky,
     By the blazing fire which rains upon    
 	 a hostile land,     
     I am Ishtar."


Figure 8-1. Venus, the Roman goddess of Love. (Courtesy of Hamlyn Publishing Co., London.)

Admittedly this sounds a little more warlike than loving! Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love (see Figure 8-2); the name (which literally means "sea foam," because the goddess was born from the sea) brings to mind Botticelli's painting, "The Birth of Venus," which hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.


Figure 8-2. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. (Courtesy of Hamlyn Publishing Co., London.)

The western part of Ishtar Terra is a high volcanic plateau, Lakshmi Planum, named for the Indian goddess of prosperity and fortune. Lakshmi may turn out to be an extremely active place, since it contains two calderas of probable volcanic origin.

The calderas (paterae) are named for famous historical women: Colette, the French writer who wrote convincingly about the pleasure and pain of love; and Sacajawea, the highly intelligent American Indian guide who helped Lewis and Clark explore the regions of the Louisiana Purchase. West and north of Lakshmi Planum are mountain belts (montes) named for goddesses of any type; these honor Freyja, Norse mother of the great god Odin, and Akna, a Mayan goddess of birth. The southern boundary of Lakshmi Planum consists of fault scarps (rupes) named Vesta for the Roman hearth goddess and Ut for the Siberian goddess of the hearth fire. Vesta was represented by an eternal flame tended by six maidens of high birth, the vestal virgins or "keepers of the flame."

Continuing to the south and east, one passes through low plains areas (planitiae) that are named for mythological heroines. Helen honors the Greek woman whose face "launched a thousand ships," and Sedna reminds one of the little drowned Eskimo girl whose fingers became the first seals. Canyons (chasmata) on the Venusian surface are named for either goddesses of the hunt or moon goddesses; in mythology, these attributes are often combined in the same goddess. Diana was a Roman huntress; her chasma, in Aphrodite Terra, includes some of the lowest elevations of Venus.

Irregular, long regions (lineae) are named for warlike mythological women. Hippolyta Linea is an example. Hippolyta was Queen of the Amazons and wife of Theseus.

Regiones are circular areas of moderate topographic relief. Aside from Alpha and Beta, they are named for Titanesses; Atla, part of Aphrodite Terra, is named for the mother of Heimdall, the Norse god of light. Circular features were recognized on the early radar reflectivity maps of Venus, but their origin is still uncertain. In the late 1970s, the PVO radar resolution made possible an attempt to differentiate between volcanic features (paterae), discussed above, and impact craters, which were to be named for notable deceased women. A few names were applied to craters on the basis of those data: Meitner Crater honors the famous Austrian physicist, and Nefertiti Crater honors the beautiful wife who supported Pharaoh Akhenaten's attempt to install monotheism in Egypt. Since then, two additional names were added by the Soviets, based on Venera 15 and 16 data: Resnick Crater and McAuliffe Crater honor the astronaut (see Figure 8-3) and educator (see Figure 8-4), respectively, who perished in the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986.


Figure 8-3. Judith A. Resnik.


Figure 8-4. Sharon Christa McAuliffe.

The central peak of another crater, located in Alpha Regio, was originally used to define zero longitude; this peak is named Eve. When the Soviet Venera missions were completed in the early 1980s, another small crater, Ariadne, superseded Eve as the definition for zero longitude. This change has led to some confusion; it is likely that a third crater nearer the equator will be nominated from the higher resolution and more extensive data of the Magellan mission.

The Venera missions also produced two new feature terms: "coronae," for ovoid structures, and "tesserae," for mosaiclike terrain, were adopted to describe terrain unlike any seen on other extraterrestrial surfaces. An additional 320 names were added to identify features in these new categories, and the ethnic representation was similarly enlarged: Bachue (Corona) is the fertility goddess of the Chibcha Indians; the three Greek Fates -- Atropos, Clotho, and Lachesis (Tesserae) -- are now honored on Venus. Other features are named using terms transferred from established planetary nomenclature: two features, Akkruva Colles and Jurate Colles are named for sea divinities; fault systems (fossae) are named for warlike persons, such as the Celtic warrior queen, Arionrod; domical small hills (tholi) are named for miscellaneous personages such as Semele, the Phrygian earth goddess. The Soviets also refined the nomenclature of circular features by giving female first names to small craters: Tunde (Hungarian), Nana (Serbo-Croatian), and Selma (Swedish).

When Magellan reaches Venus, a large number of additional names unquestionably will be needed to identify features discriminated by its sophisticated radar sensor. Once again, the names will be feminine, and newly defined features on Venus will be given the names of real and mythical women renowned on Earth.

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