Scientists associated with the Curiosity mission have two names for the towering peak inside Gale crater. Sky & Telescope wants to know: Which name do you prefer?
Update: We've been informed that there was a glitch on the SurveyMonkey site, which wasn't showing the poll responses correctly. We've fixed the problem, so the poll responses are back up. Never fear — all the answers were recorded, with 1,256 responses and counting! We'll report back soon with the final tally.
In a few weeks, after NASA's Curiosity rover has spent some time scratching and sniffing around its immediate environs, the rover will make tracks (so to speak) for its main objective: a towering peak that rises 3 miles (5 km) from the floor of Gale crater.
The huge massif was unknown to astronomers prior to spacecraft reconnaissance of Mars. In fact, early in the planning stages for Curiosity's journey, mission scientists referred to it simply as "The Mound," though that seemed somewhat undignified for such an imposing and (for the rover) all-important feature. So they undertook an effort to name the mountain, but the unintended result was two names: Aeolis Mons and Mount Sharp.
Confusing, no? So we're asking you to tell us which name you prefer. Read the descriptions below, go to the polling page we've created, and cast your vote for one name or the other.
Here then is the rationale for each name:
Aeolis Mons has roots that date to the 1870s. Mons is Latin for mountain, and Aeolis is associated with a region of Mars occasionally seen by telescopic observers. In Greek mythology, Aeolis was a `floating island where winds were kept in a cave inside a mountain. The name has been formally associated with this region of Mars since 1958, when it was recognized as such by the International Astronomical Union.
According to the IAU's naming conventions, mountains of this large size must likewise carry mythological names. So in May a panel of planetary experts assigned it the name Aeolis Mons. It's part of a family of features in this region, such as Aeolis Planum (a plateau), Aeolis Dorsum (a ridge), and so forth. The flat expanse of crater floor that Curiosity landed on is named Aeolis Palus.
Mount Sharp is a moniker coined by the mission scientists themselves. Many of them had close ties to Robert P. Sharp (1911–2004), a consummate field geologist and a key figure in formative years of planetary exploration. Sharp taught geology at Caltech from 1948 until well past retirement, influencing and guiding many current planetary scientists along the way.
"Bob Sharp was one of the best field geologists this country has ever had," says Michael Malin, who is one of Sharp's former students and now serves as principal investigator for two of the rover's 10 science instruments. Everyone on Curiosity's geologist-rich science team felt it would be entirely fitting to honor their later friend and mentor by naming The Mound after him. So in March they did just that. While the IAU panel could not sanction that choice, it did decide to give the name Robert Sharp to a 95-mile-wide crater just a bit to Gale's northwest.
So which of these — Aeolis Mons or Mount Sharp — is the best fit? Let us know your choice by voting now. Afterward, you'll be able to view the results so far, and I'll incorporate the final tally in a longer post about this interesting nom du pic.