Art Bites: Breugel, Brahms, and Brontë Are All Names of Mercury’s Craters

Are your art historical favourites up there?

Surface of the planet Mercury, covered in craters. Photo: Heritage Space/Heritage Images/Getty Images.

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If you happened to take a stroll along the surface of the planet Mercury, you’d have to watch out to make sure you didn’t tumble into Dalí, Dickens, or even Disney. Not the famous figures themselves, of course, but craters great and small named after them. It isn’t just these three famous names you’d have to look out for, either: 414 of Mercury’s craters have been named so far, each honoring a significant creative. You could say each of the individuals made a real dent in history.

The craters’ eponyms include actors, architects, choreographers, painters, philosophers, playwrights, poets, and writers. Among the writers are Zola (after the French novelist Émile Zola, friend and defender of Édouard Manet), Tolkien (after J. R. R. Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings), and Angelou (after Maya Angelou, poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist). Composers who have lent their named to Mercury’s craters include Richard Wagner, Antonio Vivaldi, and the jazz saxophonist Sidney Bechet. Artist-inspired craters include Van Gogh (after Vincent), Savage (after Augusta), and Tintoretto (after, well, Tintoretto, because who knew that his actual name was Jacopo Robusti?). In fact, looking at the full list of craters is like walking through the halls of the ultimate art gallery, with the great and the good of art history being well represented, including Calder, Cézanne, Degas, Goya, and Hokusai.

a geometric base supports a mobile with 6 circular attachments which cast shadows around a room

Alexander Calder’s mobile, Untitled at Christie’s in London on March 3, 2017.
Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images.

The earliest of Mercury’s craters were named in 1976, and the most recent batch of names given out in 2022 were Lorde (after the American writer Audre Lorde), MacNicol (after the Scottish painter Bessie MacNicol), Morrison (after the American author Toni Morrison), and Nairne (after Carolina Nairne, the Scottish songwriter). The planet itself was named in the 4th century BCE, called Hermes by the Greeks, which became Mercury by the Romans, after the god of trade, messengers, travel, and trickery.

People love to give a nod to their favorite celebs when given an opportunity to name something. The Beckhams named their daughter Harper Seven after the author Harper Lee, who wrote Victoria Beckham’s favourite book To Kill a Mockingbird; Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s daughter Rumi is named after the 13th century Persian poet Mawlana Rumi (who also became the namesake for a Mercurian crater in 1985); and in 2020 Miley Cyrus renamed her adopted dog Kate Moss.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) are in charge of naming objects and geographical features in space. They were behind the naming of Venus’ craters after famous female first names, and Mars’ craters after renowned scientists. The IAU was founded in 1919 with the mission to “promote and safeguard the science of astronomy”, and is based in Paris. They had a bit of fun in 2012 announcing the naming of Mercury’s Warhol crater, sharing four photographs of the crater, edited into Andy Warhol’s characteristic bright pop art style.

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