Emerging Tech

How We Name the Things We Find on Mars

This image from the right Mast Camera (Mastcam) of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows a scoop full of sand and dust lifted by the rover's first use of the scoop on its robotic arm.

This image from the right Mast Camera (Mastcam) of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows a scoop full of sand and dust lifted by the rover's first use of the scoop on its robotic arm. // NASA/AP

The Curiosity rover that arrived on Mars a year ago this August was named by Clara Ma, a sixth-grader from Kansas. Ma submitted an essay to a national competition, Name the Rover, that asked students to submit ideas for what the new rover -- née Mars Science Laboratory -- should be called as a nickname. "Curiosity," and Ma, won.

Many objects on Mars, though, get their monickers through a much less formal naming process. In a session at the Aspen Ideas Festival this morning, Daniel Limonadi, a senior flight systems engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explained how scientists go about the epic work that is naming objects that human eyes are encountering for the first time.

It involves ... theme weeks. Seriously.

"The scientists just make lists of names" within a given theme, Limonadi said, and as Curiosity comes across new objects of note on the Martian landscape, they assign names from those lists. "We'll just pick names from that theme set."

Read more at The Atlantic

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// April 22