Friday, 5 February 2010

Love that list

Last year Umberto Eco put out 'The Infinity of Lists', a book that accompanied the exhibition he put together after a two-year residency at the Louvre. From The Art Newspaper

“The subject of lists has been a theme of many writers from Homer onwards. My great challenge was to transfer it to painting and music and to see whether I could find equivalents in the Louvre, because frankly when I suggested the subject I had no idea how I would write about visual lists,” says Eco.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I spent some time on the International Astronomical Union website. A book I'm currently reading about the astronomers William Herschel and Caroline Herschel quoted from the IAG's naming conventions:

  • Trojan asteroids (those that librate in 1:1 resonance with Jupiter) are named for heroes of the Trojan War (Greeks at L4 and Trojans at L5).
  • Trans-Jovian Planets crossing or approaching the orbit of a giant Planet but not in a stabilizing resonance (so called Centaurs) are named for centaurs.
  • Objects crossing or approaching the orbit of Neptune and in stabilizing resonances other than 1:1 (notably the Plutinos at the 2:3 resonance) are given mythological names associated with the underworld
  • Objects sufficiently outside Neptune's orbit that orbital stability is reasonably assured for a substantial fraction of the lifetime of the solar system (so called Cubewanos or "classical" TNOs) are given mythological names associated with creation.
  • Objects that approach or cross Earth's orbit (so called Near Earth Asteroids) are generally given mythological names.

I was in love. Classical references, technical jargon, extreme specificity, and a dollop of crazy? They had me at "names of pet animals are discouraged".

If you share my delight in such things, you should definitely check out the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature: here's a snippet from the page about the naming of planetary features

And another: craters on the moon are named after:

Deceased scientists, scholars, artists and explorers who have made outstanding or fundamental contributions to their field. Deceased Russian cosmonauts are commemorated by craters in and around Mare Moscoviense. Deceased American astronauts are commemorated by craters in and around the crater Apollo. Appropriate locations will be provided in the future for other space-faring nations should they also suffer fatalities.

1 comment: said...

Reminds me of the delightful classification system (for animals) of a Chinese emperor that Borges described and which inspired Foucault to write The Order of Things:
- Those that belong to the emperor
- Embalmed ones
- Those that are trained
- Suckling pigs
- Mermaids (or Sirens)
- Fabulous ones
- Stray dogs
- Those that are included in this classification
- Those that tremble as if they were mad
- Innumerable ones
- Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
- Et cetera
- Those that have just broken the flower vase
- Those that, at a distance, resemble flies