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24 Jun 2014

OU researchers name crater on Mercury ‘Aneirin’ after Welsh poet

A view of Aneirin imaged from NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft

A view of Aneirin imaged from NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft

Three craters on Mercury have been given names thanks to researchers at The Open University (OU). The move follows approval by the International Astronomical Union of names put forward by OU academics for three large lava-flooded craters they had been studying. Craters on Mercury have to be named after famous deceased artists, musicians, painters and authors, and the OU team led by David Rothery, Professor of Planetary Geosciences, suggested the name Aneirin after the 6th century bard, who wrote in Welsh.

Aneirin's best known work is Y Gododdin, a series of elegies for the warriors of the northern Brythonic kingdom of Gododdin who, in circa 600, fell against the Angles of Deira and Bernicia at the Battle of Catraeth (probably Catterick in North Yorkshire). One stanza contains what could be the earliest reference to Arthur, as a paragon of bravery with whom one fallen warrior is compared. Although known as a Welsh bard, Aneirin may actually have been born at Dumbarton in Scotland. The Mediaeval Welsh manuscripts ‘Trioedd Ynys Prydein’ (Triads of the Island of Britain) describe Aneirin as "prince of bards".

Professor Rothery, Professor of Planetary Geosciences at the OU says: “Naming features on planets is a helpful way of identifying them and avoids having to just refer to them by co-ordinates, which can be very cumbersome. My PhD student Emma Fegan and I will soon be publishing an analysis of lava-flooded impact basins (large craters) on Mercury where shrinking of the globe has caused the edge of the solidified basin-filling lavas to become thrust over the margin of the basin. Aneirin is the jewel among these, but still had no official name until we made a case for it. Aneirin seemed to me to be an individual worthy of wider recognition, and I am very pleased that my name suggestion was approved.”

The two other newly named craters are Hafiz and Sanai, both named after Persian poets. Even with these three new additions, only 372 of Mercury's craters have been named so far.

The Open University's Mercury research is funded by the UK’s Science and Technology Research Council and the UK Space Agency, in preparation for Europe's Mercury mission, BepiColombo.

Professor Rothery will be speaking about Mercury at the National Astronomy Meeting in Portsmouth on Weds 25 June at 16.30 http://www.nam2014.org/

ENDS

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