Seamus Heaney honoured… on Mercury!

A crater on Mercury has been named in honour of Seamus Heaney, after being discovered by a student in Belfast.

The official announcement was made last month at the 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston. Student Jack Wright discovered the 75 mile diameter crater while mapping a section of the planet during his research for a PhD with the Open University. The naming was approved by the International Astronomical Union, which follows a tradition of naming craters on Mercury after deceased artists, authors and poets.

Speaking to the Irish News, Wright said “Seamus Heaney immediately came to mind, not only because he was a Nobel Laureate and one of Northern Ireland’s most famous sons, but also because I remember reading Death of a Naturalist for my GCSEs.”

Other craters on Mercury, or Mearcair Planitia as it is known in Irish, that have been named after Irish artists are Turlough Carolan, composer and performer (1670-1738, named in 2015), Wilhelmina Geddes, stained glass and graphic artist (1887-1955, named in 2010), and of course WB Yeats, poet and dramatist (1865-1939, named in 1976).

Elsewhere, topographical features are also named after various Irish artists. Venus alone has:
Maria Edgeworth, Irish writer (1767-1849)
Lady Isabella Augusta Gregory; Irish playwright (1852-1932)
Lola Montez, Irish dancer (1818-1861)
Rebecca West; Irish novelist, critic, actress (1892-1983)
Lady Jane Francesca Wilde; Irish poet (1821-1891)

On Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, a crater is named after Amergin, the legendary Irish druid and poet. Ariel, a moon on Uranus, features Farvara, Oonagh, and Gwyn from Irish folklore, with Beag appearing on Saturn’s moon Titan.

If you fancying honouring someone yourself, unfortunately you need to be a member of a professional science community with “a specific scientific need” in order to name a planetary surface feature. You can name a star with the International Star Registry or dozens of other novelty companies online, but please be aware that this will be 100% unofficial!

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