Crater on Mercury named after Irish harpist Turlough O’Carolan

Turlough O’Carolan joins W.B. Yates and Wilhelmina Geddes among Irish features on planet

A picture of Carolan Crater near the planet Mercury’s north pole, taken by the Messenger satellite while in orbit around the planet. Credit: NASA

A picture of Carolan Crater near the planet Mercury’s north pole, taken by the Messenger satellite while in orbit around the planet. Credit: NASA

 

A crater on the surface of the planet Mercury has been named in honour of the Irish musician and composer Turlough O’Carolan. The announcement comes less than a day before the satellite that first captured a picture of the crater falls out of orbit and crashes into the planet.

The Messenger satellite has been orbiting Mercury and taking thousands of pictures since March 2011. The highly successful mission mapped the planet’s surface, pock-marked by impacting space debris.

It also however yielded up a number of large and interesting features that deserved a name and this is how one has come to be known as Carolan Crater.

These things can’t just be made up however, they have to be approved by the International Astronomical Union.

The Messenger outreach team won approval for a competition to name just five of these features after a famous artist, composer or writer and after assessing 3,600 entries Carolan won through along with poet Enheduanna, photographer Karsh, songwriter Kulthum and painter Rivera.

“Its a measure of the contribution of the Irish to the cultural world at large, that we can find Irish place-names even on objects as extreme as the planet Mercury,” said Prof Paul Callanan in the Department of Physics in University College Cork.

Carolan Crater will be around for a long time but not the Messenger satellite. It has run out of fuel and on Thursday it will smash into the planet close to Mercury’s north pole to make its own small impact crater about 15 metres across.

The 500 kg spacecraft will be clipping along at more than 14,000 km per hour and will hit with the energy of about a tonne of high explosives, says Jim Raines of the University of Michigan, a team member of the Messenger mission.

Two others with Irish connections have had features on Mercury named after them, says Prof Callanan. One is Wilhelmina Geddes (1887-1955), a stained glass artist, and the other is poet William Butler Yeats.

Some 26 features on Venus carry names of Irish interest.

More information about planetary naming is available here.