Where in the Universe is Castalia Macula?

By Phil Plait | April 29, 2012 7:00 am

Hey! Did you know there’s a mountain range on Mercury called Caloris Montes? Didja?

Or a large depression on Europa called Castalia Macula, which is oddly dark and red?

Or a long, steep-sided ditch called Baba-Jaga Chasma on Venus?

Or a chaotic region on Mars called, awesomely, Chryse Chaos?

Well, I do, now that I’ve discovered the way cool Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature — a fancy way of saying "planet feature name list", brought to you by International Astronomical Union Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature — the group of folks who officially name stuff in the solar system.

You can pick the world of your choosing (like Venus, or Europa, or Saturn) and then see a list of features including mountains, cliffs, depressions, and lots of other stuff. Click that, and you get specific sites on the world you can choose from. When you do, you things like the name, where the name comes from (Baba-Jaga is a witch from Slavic legend, although it doesn’t add that she’s also the basis of one of the pieces in Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition musical suite, and yes I’m showing off), position, and sometimes even an interactive picture of the feature.

For example, here is Chryse Chaos:

Pretty nifty. It isn’t complete; poking around I found some features didn’t have coordinates, and it was 50/50 with getting the interactive map set up. But that’s OK, we’re still exploring the solar system, and this is a very handy tool if you can’t remember where you left your keys when visiting the crater Helios on Saturn’s moon Hyperion.

And yes, I’m having way too much fun today. And if I ever write a scifi novel, I’m including a character named Castalia Macula.

Tip o’ the tri-fold map to the Mercury MESSENEGER space probe’s twitter feed.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff

Comments (19)

  1. Hah, and I was just beginning to wonder what to do today. Thanks for sharing!

  2. And if I ever write a scifi novel, I’m including a character named Castalia Macula.

    Who would be a depressed half “red indian”, half well melanin enriched person maybe? ūüėČ

    I’d love to read it, BA – any chance of you writing any more books fiction or non-fiction any time soon? Please?

    As for the astronomical place names, yeah I love ’em. Heard of the Mercurian Caloris Basin and imagine the Caloris montes would ring or be ridges upon those, yeah?

    The other two not-so-much.

    Personally & similarly, I just love some of the star names such as Zubenelgenubi (Alpha Librae), Zubenescahamali (Beta Librae) & Arkushanangarushashutu (Delta Cancris) the latter being the longest starname – derived from ancient Babylonian also being known as Asellus Australis. An orange giant star alongside the Beehive Cluster – Messier 44 aka. Praesepe – if folks want to go outside and see it.

    PS. Plenty of such star names and an abundance of info on ’em can be found via the link in my name here and the link from there – Kaler’s superb ‘Stars’ website.

  3. UmTutSut (Sure, why not?)

    “Castalia Macula.” Isn’t that a disease of the eye…? ;-P

  4. John Paradox

    Pokemon on Mars?


  5. Steve D

    Zuben is claw in Arabic, janoob is south and shamal is north, so Zubenelgenubi and Zubenaschamali are the southern and northern claws, because Libra was once part of Scorpius.

  6. pumpkinpie

    Sounds like it could be the name of a planet in one of the old Doctor Who series.

  7. gameshowhost

    We should set up a hut in the Baba-Jaga Chasma.

    I have no idea what we would call the thing, or how I could turn it into some kind of nerd-culture gag.

  8. I’m tickled by the mountains on Mars that have watery names (Hellespontus, Nereidum), left over from when ye olde astronomers thought the dark bits were water.

  9. I have a CD of original compositions for guitar that is Mars themed. I called it Xanthe Terra because the place name appealed to me. (The music has nothing to do with ancient outflow channels BTW.) It came out on Strange Attractors Audiohouse in 2005, still available. As I am a big Mars armchair planetary scientist, the art and liner notes (about Mars) reflect that passion. Check it out! The graphical art alone is remarkable; the music is pretty durn good too, following in the footsteps of my mentor, the late great guitarist and national (U.S.) treasure John Fahey. I think I’ll call my next album after another favorite place name: Shikoku Facula (Titan).

  10. Dave Jerrard

    Reminded me of this TED talk, where Charles Fleischer makes fun of some of the names for places where no-one lives…


  11. Crudely Wrott

    I like Gameshowhost’s suggestion above. A hut would be necessary, of course.

    I’m just wondering how we can get bird legs big enough and able to sustain a load under Martian conditions.

    Perhaps there is a youngster out there somewhere who will grow up with aerospace engineering skills and who is also an accomplished pianist. That one might know. =)

  12. Jack

    “Pictures At An Exhibition” – were you an Emerson, Lake and Palmer fan, BA?

  13. Richie

    Well, when NASA finds a spare $100 million or so, they can set up the Solar MMO, and get people traipsing about landscapes all over the solar system. And hey look, no need to come up with generic fantasy locations like Orgrimmar, Crossroads, or Ascalon City – all the places have already been named.

    “Yes Astronaut lolwut, we need you to head to Chryse Chaos and collect five water samples and kill twenty microbe infestations”.

    Would be one heck of an outreach. I’d play it. And if you implemented player housing, then the above commenter musings of huts in the Baba-Jaga Chasma could be veritable mansions there.

  14. MRUTTY

    Oh look, Goofy’s portrait on Mars.

  15. Ken Coenen

    Eight features with “Newton” in the name found on the moon. No wonder Gingrich was obsessed!

  16. A longtime local favorite Martian name – Northport. Apparently inserted by a University of Alabama grad who went on to work at the USGS, not only does it refer to the Alabama town, but it’s a crater cut by apparent flood channels. The town of Northport is on the low floodplain side of the Black Warrior river, still seeing occasional flooding no matter how the Corps of engineers manages the river, so it fits.

  17. Magrathea

    And there I thought that Macula/Maculae were exclusive to Triton, learn something new every day, even if it makes it a bit more complicated. Macula/Maculae are MAINLY Triton features now.

  18. Checkmate1

    To those who are not yet familiar with it, may I recommend:
    “Star Names – Their Lore and Meaning” by Richard Hinckley Allen.
    Originally published in 1899 or so, it has not gone out of date..I have worn out three of them over the years, and may yet need to buy it again. About 600 pages of small print,it makes for great bedtime reading.
    There’s an amazing amount of info in there.

  19. I’m a little disappointed that only Mercury and Mars will show you a map for each feature.

    I’ve had the gazetteer bookmarked for years and years, even if I wasn’t aware of the map-of-each-feature pages on those two planets. I’ve been fascinated enough just with the lists of features, the explanations of what categories of names each body uses, and especially the global maps with feature names, which ARE available for all the major bodies.

    What keeps me coming back maybe once a week for years is the fact that they have a news section that tells you when surface features or even moons get new names. I created the articles on Wikipedia for a lot of the tiny irregular outer moons of the gas giants, and the USGS was one of my main sources. :)


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