IAU Planetary Gazetteer

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IAU Planetary Gazetteer

(glossary entry)


The official database of currently approved lunar nomenclature is maintained for the IAU by Jennifer Blue and other personnel of the United States Geological Survey Astrogeology Branch on their website.

Additional Information

  • The on-line database is descended from a computer file and informally published book prepared for NASA in the 1980's by the USGS and others on behalf of the IAU's WGPSN. As described in the Introduction to the 1989 edition (<- click to see scanned excerpts) , the original purpose of the Gazetteer was to keep systematic track of names that had been adopted by or proposed to the IAU, and others that appeared on planetary maps (including those of the Moon), and their current approval status. With multiple lines for features with multiple honorees, it also appears to have been an effort to provide documentation regarding who and what was commemorated in various years.

  • Most of the informally printed and distributed early editions, some issued as early as 1984, indicate on the title page that they are the work of of the WGPSN, although it is unclear if any inadvertent changes they introduced to the nomenclature should be regarded as having been automatically approved by that group.
  • According to page 56 of the IAU's 1993 Reports on Astronomy, the WGPSN:
    • Notes that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or the U.S. Geological Survey may be willing to undertake regular publication of a Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature under the auspices of the WGPSN
    • Recommends to the Executive Committee of the IAU that this Gazetteer be recognized by the IAU as an official documentation of planetary nomenclature approved by the IAU, in place of or in addition to that published in the IAU Transactions.
  • The outcome of the preceding recommendation does not seem to have been recorded.

  • An "official" and widely distributed Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature 1994 (<- click to see scanned excerpts) was printed by the United States Government as U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 2129. This is presumably the document anticipated in the 1993 Reports on Astronomy, however although the title page says it was "Prepared in cooperation with the International Astronomical Union — Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature" the authors are USGS personnel and the it nowhere bears the imprint or endorsement of the IAU or the WGPSN. Here are the cover page and a sample listing page from that work:
    • external image 1994_Planetary_Gazetteer_cover.jpg(cover -- click for image image)
    • external image 1994_Planetary_Gazetteer_page_34.jpg(page 34-- click for image image)In this edition, the multiple lines for multiple honorees have been eliminated, making the meaning of the "ct = continent", "et = ethnicity" and "ad = approval date" fields a bit ambiguous, since the data for a single honoree had to be selected -- and may be incorrect for the others (see, for example, Adams in the above sample). The earlier practice of spelling out the names of the honorees in full in the "origin" field has also been abandoned in favor of a somewhat ambiguous system in which in most (but not all) cases only the honoree's first and possibly middle names are cited, forcing the reader to figure out how to tack the feature name onto that to form the person's complete name.

  • The IAU Transactions are silent on the matter of the possible existence of an official IAU Gazetteer until the 1997 meeting, where the WGPSN reported:
    • Since the IAU-approved planetary nomenclature is scattered in many volumes of the IAU Transactions, there is a need for a comprehensive listing of this nomenclature. The U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff has in cooperation with WGPSN published such a listing complete up to 1994: Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature 1994 (USGS Bulletin 2129).

  • The USGS' work on the Gazetteer is next mentioned in the IAU's 1996-1999 Reports on Astronomy:
    • An increasing part of the nomenclature work is being done by e-mail assisted by a website, Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature, which has been established at the U.S. Geological Survey, Division for Astrogeology in Flagstaff, Arizona. This website, which is also linked to the IAU website, can be accessed by anyone with the Internet address http://wwwflag.wr.usgs.gov/USGSFIag/Space/nomen/nomen.html. The electronic Gazetteer contains rules and guidelines for the nomenclature and lists all names approved by the IAU, both alphabetically and by feature type. Many images and maps can be viewed. A search engine makes it easy to find details of particular interest.
    • The electronic Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature does not make the printing of new, approved nomenclature in the IAU Transactions superfluous, but the electronic Gazetteer is very useful in that it collects all the names in one place and is updated frequently.

  • For further details about the origin of the Gazetteer and its relation to other IAU resources, see IAU Nomenclature.

  • Despite the IAU's promise to publish nomenclature changes in its Transactions, in recent years the on-line database seems to have become a more authoritative record. For example, the 2000 Transactions appear to contain typographical errors in their published new spellings for Arminski, Maclaurin and Widmannstätten, which were corrected in the database, but have never been republished as errata in the Transactions.

  • Jennifer Blue has recently added a USGS Digital Atlas which illustrates the lunar names database. The maps are updated as names are added or revised.

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