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A new world in the Gazetteer: Vesta

February 9, 2012

Vesta, the latest of the bodies discovered as “worlds” with surface features, has been populated by names since October 2011.

Dawn: Rheasilvia crater and Rubens: Rhea Silvia from Mars and Rhea Silvia

The Dawn team proposed to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to use the names of vestal virgins and famous Roman women as names for the craters and to use names of places and festivals associated with vestal virgins for other feature names. This proposal was accepted by the IAU (Roatsch et al. 2012). Individual names were also proposed by Dawn Team members (Blue 2012).

The most promiment crater (or basin) has been named Rheasilvia. This impact may be the source of HED meteorites, which, mythologically speaking, should be considered the Romulus and Remus.

Rhea Silvia was the mythical mother of Romulus and Remus (from Mars as father).

The Gazetter defines her as “Roman vestal virgin”, although she was only vestal virgin in the legend, while in reality vestal virgins were real persons: priestesses of Vesta in Rome.

According to the Gazetteer, her birth date is  “c. 770 B.C.” (~20 years before the historical foundation of Rome, 753 B.C.) although Rheasilvia is a mythological character; probably a demi-goddess of forests as her name Silvia (Forest) suggests.

Names composed of two parts, compound names, are not preferred but found on the Moon (Giordano Bruno, Jules Verne, Julius Caesar, Kamerlingh Onnes etc.) and are frequently seen on Earth (New York). Rheasilvia, however is spelled in one word. Minor body names are “preferably one word” but there are exceptions: 19367 Pink Floyd or 19383 Rolling Stones. 178 out of 10038 names were composed of 2 or 3 words (in 1992).

An interesting distiction in the Gazetteer for Vesta crater names is that “Approved names are not meant to commemorate individuals, but merely as names for surface features.” This approach  is similar to that of small Martian crater names “No commemoration of specific towns or villages is intended.”

Sources: Jennifer S. Blue 2012, personal communication, Rita Schulz, WGPSN webpage, wikipedia, Lutz D. Schmadel: Dictionary of minor planet names, 1. Roatsch Th et al. 2012: HIGH RESOLUTION VESTA HAMO ATLAS DERIVED FROM DAWN FC IMAGES. LPSC 43, #1765.

Currently complete nomenclature: http://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/images/vesta.pdf

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