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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Where in the Universe is Castalia Macula?

By Phil Plait

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.

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