NASA's Ceres maps show color-coded features and new official, mythical names

The geological features on dwarf planet Ceres are now named after agricultural gods and goddesses, while we're still waiting to hear about the sci-fi names chosen for features of Pluto's moon.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
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This newly released color-enhanced NASA image shows the geological features on dwarf planet Ceres. Some of their name are shown on the map below. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

If you need any proof that NASA fans are geeks of the highest order (and we mean that as the highest compliment, of course), all you need to do is look at the open call for name submissions that NASA ran in April to help name the features on Pluto and its orbiting bodies, which got submissions like Cthulhu, Balrog, Kirk and Spock.

The rules for naming such things are always set by International Astronomical Union (IAU) in Paris. In this case, they opened it up to names from mythology, science fiction and fantasy. For example, since Charon was the ferryman who took souls across the river Styx, names of features on Pluto's moon Charon will be drawn from mythical and fictional stories of travel and exploration. And as dwarf planet Ceres was a Roman goddess of agriculture and fertility, the IAU dictated that names of its features would come from "spirits and deities relating to agriculture from a variety of cultures," according to NASA.

The organization on July 28 released some stunning maps of Ceres, which is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter that has been getting examined by the Dawn spacecraft since March. The maps use color to differentiate the heights of various craters and peaks on the Ceres. (Previously we've mostly been admiring black and white photos of bright spots and pyramids.) The map below is also labeled with the names of the features that have now been approved by the IAU.

Enlarge Image

So we wind up with a 20-mile-wide (30-kilometer) crater named Haulani, a Hawaiian plant goddess; a 75-mile-wide (120-kilometer) and 3-mile (5-kilometer) deep crater named after Dantu, a Ghanaian god associated with the planting of corn; and Occator, the crater that contains Ceres' famous bright spots. Occator is the Roman god of harrowing, and was a helper of the goddess Ceres.

Along with the official names, NASA also released this animation of Ceres spinning in space, with its topography picked out with color coding, which makes it easier to imagine as a home for all those mythical crops and flowers.