One of Mercury’s most prominent features named as Gaeilge

Scientist Paul Byrne has succeeded in his bid to given the large lava plain an Irish name

An Irish scientist has succeeded in his bid to name one of the planet Mercury’s most prominent features as Gaeilge.

Dr Paul Byrne, a planetary scientist based in the US, said he was so excited that the International Astronomical Union (IAU) had approved his proposal to name a large lava plain on the planet as Mearcair Planitia that he emailed his old school, Salesian College in Celbridge, Co Kildare, to give them the news.

Mearcair is the Irish word for Mercury, while Planitia is the Latin term for a plain.

“To get this news in St Patrick’s week was absolutely brilliant,” he said.


“I got a C3 in Irish in the Leaving Certificate. Maybe I have finally done right by my Irish teacher now because she put a lot of work into me.”

Mearcair Planitia is a flat area which was most likely formed billions of years ago.

It is to the west of the Caloris Basin, one of the largest impact craters in the solar system, which was first identified in the 1970s.

Mercury is the smallest planet in our solar system and the one closest to the sun.

It was mapped in detail for the first time by the Messenger spacecraft between 2011 and 2015.

As a result, hundreds of new geographical features on the planet, such as craters, mountains and plains, have been identifed.

The IAU is responsible for deciding the names of newly-discovered extraterrestrial objects.

The public are invited to make submissions, but there are strict rules.

Dr Byrne said he first put in an application to have the feature named Mearcair Planitia four years ago.

He said he was overjoyed when he received notice two days ago that his suggestion had been approved.

Carolan Crater

Mearcair Planitia is not the first feature on Mercury to have an Irish name.

Carolan Crater near Mercury's North Pole was named after the blind harpist Turlough O'Carolan in 2015.

The Leitrim-born stained glass artist Wilhelmina Geddes also has a crater named after her, as does William Butler Yeats. Yeats Crater was first identified in 1975.

However, Mearcair Planitia is significantly bigger than those features.

It is 1,175km in diameter and would probably be as large as France, Germany and Spain combined.

As well as its new Irish name, the crater even slightly resembles a map of Dublin.

Dr Byrne (34) studied for his PhD in Trinity College Dublin.

He has been working in the US for the last six years. He is currently a professor of planetary science at North Carolina State University.

From 2011-2015, he worked on the Nasa Messenger mission to Mercury, and was heavily involved in studying the planet's geology.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times