Newsweek Names a Mars Crater

"Buy land," is a common maxim, so we decided to look to Mars Walter Myers/Science Photo Library/Corbis

It’s good to own land; it’s even better to get to name it after yourself. What kid doesn’t imagine her toy cars running through the streets of the Kingdom of Sophia or Emilysville?

Then reality sets in: getting a piece of land all to your own isn’t cheap. In 2013, for example, it cost an average of $1,200 for an acre of field in the United States -- plain old “pastures” where nothing grows but grass. A private island ranges from $175,000 (two acres on a Michigan freshwater delta) to $20 million (63 acres in the Florida keys). And could you really call a couple of acres a Kingdom?

But there’s good news for armchair emperors: for as little as $5, you can name your own crater on Mars. The craters are priced in proportion to their size, but for even just $50, you can get a nice-looking hole in the ground around 40 square kilometers, equal to 9637 acres.

And if you want to splurge, you can buy a District (360 square kilometers, or about 89,000 acres, for a mere $3,000) or even a Province (32,400 square kilometers, which is over 80 million acres, for $10,000).

The Mars mapping project is run by The Uwingu Fund, a new science education program that provides grants to scientists and educators focused on space exploration, research, and education projects. Uwingu was founded and is guided by Alan Stern, a former NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate – NASA’s highest science post. All the proceeds from the map naming go to Uwingu; they hope to raise about $10 million dollars in total from the project.

What does it actually mean to name your own crater?

Well, technically, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) controls the naming of celestial bodies, so it’s a bit unclear what you get for your money. Uwingu’s website states that, when it comes to the publicly chosen names, “They’ll be used by anyone using Uwingu’s Mars maps. For now that’s just the public, but soon, we hope, scientists and space missions to Mars will be using these maps too.”

The IAU, for its part has specifically stated that star “‘names’ have no formal or official validity whatever, and has a rigorous process for public naming campaigns for other astronomical objects. When it comes to planetary features like craters and regions, they state that any name has to be reviewed and approved by the task group chair to the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature.

Stern has criticized the IAU in the past, claiming in 2006 their “official” definition of a planet was “not only unworkable and unteachable, but so scientifically flawed and internally contradictory that it cannot be strongly defended against claims of scientific sloppiness.” Uwingu’s website makes no mention of the IAU, except to mention that features of Mars already named by the IAU have been included in their maps. So, at the very least, you won’t be purchasing an already staked-out claim.

Despite the opacity of the naming process (and the likelihood that we’ll never get to visit our territory) Newsweek decided nonetheless that we wanted a chunk of the Red Planet to call our own. As a team, we decided to name it TK. 

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