J.R.R. Tolkien Honored With A Crater on Mercury's North Pole

By Max Eddy on August 14, 2012 6:22 PM EDT

Tolkien Crater
J.R.R. Tolkien's name has been given to a crater near Mercury's north pole. (Photo: NASA/MESSENGER)

The legendary author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy J.R.R. Tolkien has been immortalized on a cosmic scale with his name attached to a crater on Mercury. Tolkien's name was added along with eight other international artists to the list of features on the surface of our solar system's innermost planet.

The names were approved by the International Astronomical Union on August 6, and are all craters near Mercury's northern pole. According to The Universe Today, Tolkien crater is fairly large at around 30 miles in diameter, and is extremely close to the Mercury's pole.

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The crater is among those identified by NASA's Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging probe or MESSENGER. The satellite first reached Mercury in March of last year, becoming the first spacecraft to ever orbit the tiny planet. Since its arrival, the probe has sent back nearly 100,000 pictures and greatly expanded scientists knowledge of the planet.

Among the surprises from the MESSENGER data have been the beautiful prismatic bursts of color on the planet's surface and the possibility of water ice in some craters. Tolkien crater, along with the other eight named craters from the recent announcement, all have evidence of water ice.

Names for the craters, which spanned a wide array of backgrounds, were suggested by members of the MESSENGER team. MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon is quoted in a press release explaining that naming the craters is more than just a fun exercise. "Formal names make it easier to communicate scientific findings about specific regions and features," says Solomon. "The second, equally important reason is that these designations expand the opportunities to recognize the contributions to the arts by the most creative individuals from many cultures and eras."

"The names of those individuals are now linked in perpetuity to the innermost planet."

The news comes just months before the latest adaptation of Tolkien's work, a feature film trilogy based on The Hobbit, is slated for release this December. MESSENGER, meanwhile, has already completed its primary mission around Mercury, but will continue operating on an extended mission until March 2013.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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