How The Lunar Craters Got Their Names

Impact craters are the result of asteroids, comets, or meteorites hitting the Moon’s surface. Craters were originally thought to have been formed by volcanoes collapsing since they reminded viewers of Earthly volcanoes. The theory that they formed from the impact of foreign objects was doubted back then due to the spherical shape of craters. Scientists supposed that craters should be elongated if they were caused by impacts since most objects would occur at a slanting angle. Asteroids and other objects hit with a range of speed, but generally at about 12 miles per second or 43,200 miles per hour. With this great speed of impact, the angle doesn’t matter. Craters are round because of the high velocity with which they are formed, which proves the impact explanation for the origin of craters. The Earth’s atmosphere burns up any object from space and prevents it from impacting the surface. However, the Moon has no atmosphere to protect itself from potential impacts. The Moon also does not have wind or water to erode away the craters once they are formed. These craters therefore remain unchanged until another impact occurs. Due to this, the number of smaller impacts within the greater crater can help to estimate the age of a crater.

Galileo built his telescope in 1609 and set its viewfinder on the moon on Novermber 30, 1609. At which point he discovered that the moon was not a perfect sphere. It instead was speckled with hills and depressions. The word crater was derived from the Greek “Krater,” which means bowl or wide-mouthed goblet, and the Latin word for cup after Galileo’s discovery of the strange indentations. Later in 1651, an Italian astronomer named Giovanni Battista Riccioli mapped out the surface of the Moon. Some of the major landmarks had already been named in the previous years, but Riccioli created a new identification system of his own. He started with calling the flat plains “maria,” which is the Latin word for seas since he mistook these areas for lunar oceans. He then named the craters after famous astronomers and philosophers. In the Northern hemisphere, the craters were named after astronomers from the past. The Southern hemisphere craters were then named after famous men living at the time. Astronomers kept Riccioli’s labeling system since then , building off of his precedent. Some of Riccioli’s names include Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler, Aristarchus, Hipparchus, Erathostenes, Meton, and Pythagoras. Since the 17th century, scientists have strayed slightly from Riccioli’s original system. The Russians named a large crater on the far side of the moon after their own Tsiolkovsky in the 19th century, since they were the first to observe the rear of the Moon. Now, craters can be named after anyone. One online service for example offers to the public a plaque that calls a crater your own for a $40 fee.

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