Thursday, December 29, 2011

Gale crater on Mars named after Australian banker and astronomer Walter Frederick Gale

The Gale crater on Mars was named in 1991 after Australian banker and astronomer Walter Frederick Gale (1865-1945) [1-3]. This 150-kilometer-wide hollow emerged as the front-runner for the landing site of NASA's Curiosity rover and finally was picked for the $2.5 billion rover mission, successfully launched at the end of November in 2011 [3-5].

The leaders of the Curiosity mission chose the Gale crater as landing spot, because it promises to be the scene for exciting studies of Martian sedimentary patterns by using rock-vaporizing lasers, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry and X-ray diffraction instruments for chemical analysis as well as high-resolution digital cameras from Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS)  [6]. Channels (probably carved by flowing water) in the crater wall and mid-crater mound have been found during previous orbit-based studies:  the mound in the center of the five-kilometer-deep impact crater contains layered materials including clay and other minerals [7].

Keywords: astronomy, planetary science, areography, Martian topography, geology, terminology.

References and more to explore
[1] Google Mars Lab:
[2] Harley Wood: Gale, Walter Frederick (1865-1945). Australian Dictionary of Biography [].
[3] Space News: NASA Picks Gale Crater for Mars Science Lab Landing. July 25, 2011 [].
[4] Nancy Atkinson: Gale crater reported front-runner for MSL landing site. June 24, 2011 [].
[5] James Holloway: Mars Curiosity Rover successfully launched. November 27, 2011 [].
[6] Eric Hand: The Mars Observer. Nature, November 24, 2011, 479 (7374), pp. 460-463 [].
[7] NASA Mars Science Laboratory > Gale Crater:

Monday, December 19, 2011

Martian locality inside the Gusev Crater: Columbia Hills named to honor the crew of the space shuttle Columbia

The Columbia hills inside Crater Gusev on Mars are named to honor the crew of the space shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated over Texas after re-entry into Earth's atmosphere in February 2003 [1,2].

The Columbia Hills are a range of low hills inside Gusev Crater that were visited in 2004 by Mars rover Spirit, equipped with alpha particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS) as well as infrared and Mössbauer spectrometer [3]. With this technology on board, at least ten different types of rocks were identified at the Columbia site, which is exposing rock formations that are different and older than the lava-flooded surroundings of olevine-bearing basalts [1,4]: layered granular deposits were discovered in the Columbia Hills and have been interpreted to be volcanic ash and/or impact ejecta deposits that have been modified by aqueous fluids.

Keywords: astronomy, planetary science, areography, Martian topography, geology, space shuttle Columbia disaster, terminology.

References and more to explore
[1] Ulf von Rauchhaupt: Der Neunte Kontinent - Die wissenschaftliche Eroberung des Mars. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, November 2010; pages 181.
[2] Joseph Lorenzo Hall: Columbia and Challenger: organizational failure at NASA. Space Policy 2003, 19, pp. 239-247 [].
[3] > Columbia Hills, Gusev Crater, Aeolis quadrangle, Mars:
[4] R. E. Arvidson et al.: Overview of the Spirit Mars Exploration Rover Mission to Gusev Crater: Landing Site to Backstay Rock in the Columbia Hills. J. Geophys. Res. 2006, 111, E02S01 [].

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Eberswalde Crater on Mars named after the City of Eberswalde in the German State of Brandenburg

The Eberswalde Crater on Mars is named after the German town with the same name (in accordance with the rules for planetary nomenclature of the International Astronomical Union), located about 50 km northeast of Berlin in the German Federal State (Bundesland) of  Brandenburg [1,2]. The 65-km-diameter crater (centered at 24.3°S, 33.5°W, just north of the Holden Crater) contains a distributary fan, which is supposed to be an ancient delta in which a river deposited sediments, now hardened to sandstone [3].  The delta structure is (so far) the most convincing sign that a Martian river once flowed into a standing body of water [4,5]: possible streambed features, which are now higher than the surrounding terrain due to sediment hardening and erosion resistance, are assumed to be remaining parts that formed when the Eberswalde streams carved new channels.   

The Eberswalde Crater and its interesting geology came into focus in 2003 during the Mars Global Surveyor exploration program [6]. Based on images taken during this remote expedition, Michael Malin and Kenneth Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems discovered the Eberswalde delta with a surface are of 115 km2 [7].

Keywords: astronomy, planetary science, areography, Martian topography, impact crater, Margaritifer Terra, history, terminology.

References and more to explore
[1] Ulf von Rauchhaupt: Der Neunte Kontinent - Die wissenschaftliche Eroberung des Mars. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, November 2010; pages 174 and 175.
[2] Mahalo > Eberswalde (crater):
[3] David Pratt: Life on Mars: from microbes to monuments. December 2011 [].
[4]  NASA Mars Science Laboratory > Possible MSL Landing Site: Eberwalde Crater:
[5] M. Pondrelli, A. P. Rossi, L. Marianangeli, E. Hauber, K. Gewinner, A. Baliva and S. di Lorenzo: Evolution and depositional environments of the Eberswalde fan delta, Mars. Icarus October 2008, 197 (2), pp. 429-451.
doi: 10.1016/j.icarus.2008.05.018.
[6] NASA Solar System Exploration > Mars Global Surveyor:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Valles Marineris, a Martian rift zone named to honor the scientific team of the Mariner 9 program

The Valles Marineris got their name in 1973 to honor the scientific team of the Mariner 9 program [1]. The term “Valles Marineris” is the latinized form of the phrase “Mariner Valleys.” “Valles” is the plural form of the Latin noun “vallis.” The plural form in “Valles Marineris” indicates that this vast Martian surface feature is a system of multiple valleys or canyons.

Valles Marineris was discovered in 1972 by the Mariner 9 spacecraft [3]: Its length matches the distance between New York City and Los Angeles. This valley system, commonly referred to as the Valles Marineris trough system, is located close to the Martian equator, where it trends east-west from longitude 40°W to 110°W with a depth reaching 10 km [4]. During NASA's Global Surveyor Mission, the deepest point was found by laser measurements within the valleys in the Coprates Chasma region [5,6]: Valles Marineris does not exhibit the typical features of a river bed or canyon formed by water flowing down from source to delta. A complete understanding of how the Valles Marineris system originated and evolved by combination of water flow, magmatic processes, tensional fracturing and/or other forces is still far away.  

Keywords: astronomy, planetary science, areography, Martian topography, Latin, vallis, valles, terminology.

References and more to explore
[1] Google Mars Lab:
[2] Glossary of Latin Words > V:
[3] Valles Marineris, a Martian Rift Zone:
[4] Géomorphologie > New insight on genetic links between outflows and chasmata on Valles Marineris plateau, Mars (January 2009):
[5] ESA Mars Express > Coprates Chasma and Coprates Catena:
[6] Ulf von Rauchhaupt: Der Neunte Kontinent - Die wissenschaftliche Eroberung des Mars. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, November 2010; pages 114 to 119.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Latin nouns “planitia” and “planum” both mean “plain”—in astronomy “low plain” and “high plain,” respectively

The Latin nouns planitia and planum both mean flat surface, plain or level ground [1,2]. Their plural forms are planitiae and plana, respectively. In astronomy, the meaning of these words have a significance of distinguishing topographical areas: planitia stands for low plain and planum for high plain [1-3].

Triggered by new data on Martian topography delivered by the Mariner 9 mission, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) decided in 1973 on a nomenclature in which the term planitia refers to a plain below the zero-elevation level and the term planum refers to an elevated plain (plateau) [3].

This terminology is now applied to various celestial objects. For example, planitiae of different size are known on planets Mars and Venus as well as on moons in the solar system [4]. Similarly, a large number of plana have been described on Mars, Venus, Neptun moon Triton and Jupiter moon Io [5]. Of course, their are planitiae and plana on Earth (with the standard sea level as zero elevation), but typically their names are derived without incorporating these two Latin nouns.

Keywords: astronomy, planetary science, areography, geological features, Latin, terminology.

References and more to explore
[1] Wiktionary > planitia [] and planum [].
[2] MyEtymology > Etymology of the Latin word planitia [] and Etymology of the Latin word planum [].
[3] Ulf von Rauchhaupt: Der Neunte Kontinent - Die wissenschaftliche Eroberung des Mars. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, November 2010; page 107. (Tiefebene und Hochebene are the German words for planitia  and planum).
[4] FindTheData > Astrogeology > Planitia, planitiae:,-planitiae.
[5] FindTheData > Astrogeology > Planum, plana:,-plana.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Craters Airy and Airy-0 on Mars named after Greenwich astronomer Sir George Biddell Airy

The craters Airy and Airy-0 on Mars were named to commemorate the Greenwich astronomer Sir George Biddell Airy (1801-1892) [1]: Airy-0, a small impact crater with a diameter of 500 meter, is located inside the 40-kilometer-wide Airy crater in the east-west stretching Sinus Meridiani feature just south of the Martian equator.

The center of Airy-0 was chosen to define the Martian prime meridian, the zero point of longitude. On Earth the prime meridian was defined by international agreement in 1881 based on the location of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich near London, England, where Sir Airy was employed as the seventh Astronomer Royal [1,2].
Pinpointing the zero point onto Airy-0 became possible in 1972, when Mariner 9 mapped the surface of Mars at about 1 kilometer resolution [2]:  Merton Davies of the RAND Corporation, who computed an extensive 'control net' of locations, designated Airy-0 as the reference point for the Martian spherical coordinate system. Planet Mars, however, is not exactly a sphere. Like Earth, Mars is flattened at its poles. The overall shape of Mars may be described as a pear, which is further deformed by structures such as the Tharsis Bulge, an uplifted continent about the size of North America [1,3]. 

George Biddell Airy was born at Alnwick in Northumberland on July 27, 1801.  In 1823, he took his B. A. Degree at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was appointed Plumian Professor of Astronomy at the Cambridge Observatory in 1828. From 1835 until his retirement in 1881 he was Astronomer Royal at the national observatory in Greenwich, where—during his long career and succession of accomplishments in physics, in particular planetary science— he established the prime meridian in the early 1850s [4,5].

Keywords: astronomy, mathematics, geometry, planetary science, areology (science of Mars), areography (geology of Mars), terminology.

References and more to explore
[1] Ulf von Rauchhaupt: Der Neunte Kontinent - Die wissenschaftliche Eroberung des Mars. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, November 2010; pages 104 and 105.
[2] NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration > Mars Atlas:
[3] The Tharsis Bulge on Mars:
[4] George Biddell Airy: Autobiography of Sir George Biddell Airy (edited by Wilfrid Airy in 1896, produced by Joseph Myers and PG Distributed Proofreaders and released on January 9, 2004) [].
[5] Sir George Biddell Airy K.C.B., M.A., LL.D., D.C.L., F.R.S., F.R.A.S.:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Crater Gusev on Mars named after Russian astronomer Matwei Matwejewitsch Gusev

Crater Gusev on Mars was named for the Russian astronomer Matwei Matwejewitsch Gusev (1826-1866) [1]. In English, his first name is commonly spelled Matvei.

The Gusev crater was discovered in 1976 on images taken by the Viking Orbiter [2,3]. This crater is a four-billion-year-old meteor impact basin near the Martian equator at 14.6S and 175.4E [4]. Mars Exploration Rover Spirit landed in the basin in 2004. This site was chosen because it had the appearance of a lakebed: the bottom of the crater may contain sedimentary deposits laid down in a submarine environment, assuming that Gusev was once filled with water [5]. Although the Spirit rover found mainly basaltic rock, it also detected some mineral salts such as magnesium and calcium sulfate and amorphous silicon dioxid, giving a hint of a possible presence of thermal water and hot springs in the past [1].

Matvei Gusev was born in 1826 in Vyatka, Russia, and died in 1866 in Berlin, Germany. He is known for proving the non-sphericity of  Earth's moon and concluding that it is elongated in the direction towards Earth [6].

Keywords: astronomy, planetary science, areology (science of Mars), areography (geology of Mars), terminology.

References and more to explore
[1] Ulf von Rauchhaupt: Der Neunte Kontinent - Die wissenschaftliche Eroberung des Mars. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, November 2010; pages 71, 176, 181 and 182.
[2] Malin Space Science Systems > Mars Global Surveyor - Gusev Crater and Ma'adim Vallis:
[3] NASA Images > Gusev Crater and Ma'adam
[4] Google Mars Lab:
[5] NASA National Space Science Data Center > Spirit:
[6] Matvei Gusev:

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Crater Mie on Mars named after German physicist Gustav Mie

Crater Mie on Mars was named in 1973 (approved by the International Astronomical Union) for the German physicist Gustav Mie (1868-1957). This Martian impact crater in Utopia Planitia on the northern hemisphere is about 100 km (65 mi) in diameter and located at 48.1N and 139.6E [1,2]. An image, taken by the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) and released by NASA in December 2003, shows clouds and dust to the east of Mie [3]. Viking 2 landed near Mie in September 1976 [4].

Gustav Mie was born in 1868 in Rostock in northeast Germany and died in 1957 in Freiburg in southwest Germany [5,6]. His contributions to physics include optical studies of colloidal gold suspensions and the analysis of light scattering.  His name is primarily associated with the terms Mie scattering and Mie effect, honoring his work on the scattering of electromagnetic radiation by a homogeneous spherical particle that exceeds the size (above 100 nm) of Raleigh scattering conditions [7]. Gustav Mie's three-letter last name may look like a shorthand or a wrongly spelled Greek letter, but Mie theory has a prominent place in physics today as well as in the atmospheric sciences of  Earth and other planets [8].

Mie is pronounced like the English personal pronoun me.

Keywords: astronomy, planetary science, areology (science of Mars), areography (geology of Mars), polarimetry, Mie solution, terminology.

References and more to explore
[1] Ulf von Rauchhaupt: Der Neunte Kontinent - Die wissenschaftliche Eroberung des Mars. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, November 2010; page 71.
[2] Google Mars Lab:
[3] NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems:
[4] NASA Goddard Space Flight Center > Viking 2 - Utopia Planitia:
[5] Pedro Lilienfeld: Gustav Mie: the person. Applied Optics 20 November 1991, 30 (33), pp. 4696-4698 [].
[6] Gustav Mie:
[7] Gerald Brezesinki and Hans-Jörg Mögel: Grenzflächen und Kolloide. Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, Heidelberg, Berlin und Oxford, 1993; pages 129-131.
[8] Michael I. Mishchenko and Larry D. Travid: Gustav Mie and the Evolving Discipline of Electromagnetic Scattering by Particles. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc. 2008, 89, pp. 1853-1861 [].

Monday, December 5, 2011

The “canali” intermezzo in the history of Martian exploration

In 1869 the word canali (Italian for channels) was introduced into areography by Pietro Angelo Secchi (1818-1878), a Jesuit monk and director of the Roman College Observatory, who had produced the first color sketches of Mars in 1863. The term canali referred to dark streaks seen on the Martian surface. They already appeared (unnamed) on drawings by the German amateur astronomer Johann Hieronymus Schroeter (1745-1816) and the English astronomer William Dawes (1799-1868). When Pater Secchi came up with the term canali, he was probably inspired by the construction of the Suez Canal, happening during that time [1,2].

Eventually, the canali on Mars became associated with Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835-1910), who thought he had spotted double canali in 1879 and, two years later, revised his Mars maps by adding even more canali [1]. Schiaparelli is responsible for various areographic names of Martian structures. With the beginning of high resolution mapping and spacecraft exploration of Mars, the canali turned out to be an optical illusion.  

The Italian noun canali (plural of canale) happened to be mistranslated in English-speaking countries into “canal,” typically referring to an artificially constructed waterway or irrigation structure. The correct translation is “channel” [3]. The canal association resulted into those familiar speculations fantasizing about an agriculturally active population on our neighbor planet. 

Making headlines of all kinds, the canali affair is an excellent example of naming and mistranslating something that does not even exist. Much ado about nothing.

Keywords: astronomy, planetary science, areology (science of Mars), areography (geology of Mars), history, linguistics, Italian-English translation.

References and more to explore
[1] Planet Mars Chronology:
[2] Ulf von Rauchhaupt: Der Neunte Kontinent - Die wissenschaftliche Eroberung des Mars. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, November 2010; page 37.
[3] Exploring Mars - What we know about the red planet:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Early areology: mapping the surface of Mars and naming features

The first detailed map of Mars was created in 1877 by Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835-1910), who—in Milan—observed the Martian surface through a telescope and determined 62 clearly recognizable features by latitude and longitude. Schiaparelli replaced the terms of  those few Martian structures, which the Englishman Richard Antony Proctor had compiled ten years earlier from observations made by William Rutter Dawes. These structures had preferably been named after British astronomers. Schiaparelli, instead, named Martian locations and “landmarks” after the geography of the Mediterranean. He was also inspired by terms from the Bible and ancient mythology [1-4].

Schiaparellis name inventions include Elysium (“Home of the blessed” in Greek mythology), Tharsis (after the biblical Tarshis, referring to the land at the western extremity of the world) and Syrtis Major (after the Gulf of Sirte, Libya). At Google Mars ( you can explore these foreign territories. Schiaparelli's canali cannot be found on Google's Mars maps, since they do not exist: Eugène Michael  Antoniade observed the planet in 1909 with the “Grande Lunette” (Europe's largest telescope at that time) at the observatory in Meudon near Paris and convinced himself of the non-existence of the canali.  His (negative) findings were soon to be confirmed by observations with the refractory telescope on Mt. Wilson, California [1].

With the advancing exploration of Mars, some of Schiaparelli's names seem misleading and have been changed slightly. For example, “Nix Olympica” (snow of Mount Olympus, Greece) is now named Olympus Mons, since it is not a snow-covered mountain, but the highest volcano in the solar system. In 1990, Sierra Leone in Africa issued two stamps sketching this gigantic volcano to salute the ongoing exploration of Mars: one stamp with the name Nix Olympica printed on it, the other with the name Olympus Mons [5].

Keywords: astronomy, planetary science, areology (science of Mars), areography (geology of Mars), history, philately.

References and more to explore
[1] Ulf von Rauchhaupt: Der Neunte Kontinent - Die wissenschaftliche Eroberung des Mars. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, November 2010; pages 35 and 43.
[2] The Encyclopedia of Science > Schiaparelli, Giovanni Virgino (1835-1910):
[3] Encyclopedia. com > Giovanni Virgino Schiaparelli:
[4] Library Index > Science Encyclopedia > Mars - Giovanni Schiaparelli [].
[5] (scroll to the bottom to see the two stamps).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A new verb is making its orbit: to pluto

The phrase to pluto someone means “to downgrade, demote or remove altogether from a prestigious group or list, like what was done to the planet of the same name” [1]. Pluto's demotion took place in 2006, when the International Astronomical Union (IAU) (re)defined the term “planet,” putting Pluto on dwarf planet status [2].

While considered to be planet after its discovery by the American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh in 1930, Pluto was named by Venetia Burney, an eleven-year-old schoolgirl in Oxford, England. Thereafter, planet enthusiasts had a prestigious list of nine planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. If you want to see all nine orbiting around the sun, there are animations and tours available [3]. By the way, the laws of (astro)physics do not change by shuffling classification schemes and conventions—and no tears, Pluto is still a planet, just a minor one along with the asteroid Ceres and trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) such as Eris (which is 27 percent more massive than Pluto), Haumea, Ixion, Makemake, Orcus, Quaoar, Sedna, Varuna and other fascinating objects.

Let's put it together in a limerick (Axel Drefahl, November 2011 ):
Once upon a time,
planets there were nine.
But Pluto lacks in weight:
now there are only eight.
In case you are looking for more than a summarizing rhyme: there is no better way to learn about highlights, details and the downfall of Pluto by reading Neil deGrasse Tyson's book The Pluto Files [2]. Therein, I also found the link to the American Dialect Society, voting for “plutoed” as the word of the year in 2006, in a run-off against  “climate canary” and in competition with the noun murse (for man's purse, getting zero votes) [4].

Although Pluto has been plutoed, this dwarf planet will get increasing attention:  NASA's New Horizons Spacecraft is currently halfway between Earth and Pluto, approaching the icy little planet and its moons for a flyby in July 2015 [5].

Keywords: astronomy, solar system, minor planet, verb, grammar, linguistics.

References and more to explore
[1] Urban dictionary > pluto
[2] Neil deGrasse Tyson: The Pluto Files. W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London, 2009.
[3] Nine Planets
[4] Plutoed” Voted 2006 Word of the Year by American Dialect Society [].
[5] NASA > Missions > New Horizons

Friday, November 25, 2011

Official labeling scheme for newly discovered minor planets

A newly discovered minor planet is named by a label (designation) that indicates the date of  its discoveries in relation to recently (during the same semi-month period) made discoveries. The standard designation consists of a sequence of three parts, describing and ordering the date of the first observation of a new object [1,2]:
  1. four-digit number indicating the year,
  2. an uppercase letter identifying the half-month (also called semi-month),
  3. an uppercase letter identifying the numerical sequence of discovery, followed by one or more digits (representing a counter) if more than 25 previous discoveries were made within the same half-month.
The half-month designations are listed in the right-side table below. For a given month, the first letter refers to days 1 to 15 and the second letter to any of the remaining days of that month. Letters I and Z are not used.

Within any half-month, a discovery is ordered by the 25 letters of the alphabet, excluding letter I. From the 26th discovery onward, the letters are recycled and a numeral, counting recycling repetition, is appended—when possible as subscript [1]. For example, D2 represents 54th; 50 + 4, since 2 repetitions formally consume 2⋅25 = 50 letters and D is the 4th letter of the alphabet.

The four digits for the year are separated from the following parts by small white space.

Let's look at some complete designations:
  • 1992 QB1 is the 27th (1⋅25 + 2) object discovered in the second half of August in the year 1992: this was the first trans-Neptunian object (TNO) to be discovered after Pluto and Charon [3]; 
  • 2003 UB313 is the 7,827th (313⋅25 + 2) object discovered in the second half of October in 2003: this object is now called Eris, a TNO and a Kuiper belt object (KBO) in particular;
  • 2005 YU55 is the 1,395th (55⋅25 + 20) object discovered in the second half of December in 2005: an asteroid as big as an aircraft carrier recently zipping by Earth [4], narrowly avoiding collision.
Such designations are systematic, but often provisional: as the example of Eris shows, objects may later be named by figures or spirits from mythology as shown for TNOs named after creation deities.

Designations of minor bodies and natural satellites in the solar system are managed by the Minor Planet Center (MPC) in conjunction with the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT). The MPC is also responsible for the efficient collection, computation, checking and dissemination of astrometric observations and orbits for minor planets and comets by issuing various types of circulars [5].

Keywords: astronomy, planetary science, asteroids, dwarf planets, trojans, centaurs, nomenclature.

References with further details
[1] IAU Minor Planet Center > New- and Old-Style Minor Planet Designation:
[2] Neil deGrasse Tyson: The Pluto Files. W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London, 2009; fottnote on page 53.
[3] NASA Science News > What Lurks In The Outer Solar System?:
[4] Alice Chang: Big asteroid passes Earth. Reno Gazette-Journal November 9, 2011, page 5C.
[5] IAU Minor Planet Center:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dysnomia, a moon of the Kuiper belt object Eris, named after the spirit of lawlessness

Dysnomia is a moon of the Kuiper belt object (KBO) Eris. Dysnomia's discovery in 2005 significantly contributes to our understanding of the history and evolution of the solar system. By measuring the complete orbit of Dysnomia, going around Eris in about 16 days, it was possible to calculate that Eris has a mass 27 percent higher than that of Pluto [1-5].

In Greek mythology, Eris is the mother of Dysnomia, who represents the spirit (daimona) of lawlessness and poor civil constitution [6]. Considering that Eris is named after the Greek goddess of strife, discord, contention and rivalry (see second paragraph in KBO article), Neil deGrasse Tyson underlines the complicated social lives of classical gods and explains [3]:

One of Eris's pastimes was to instill jealousy and envy among men, driving them to battle. At the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, all the gods were invited with the exception of Eris. Angered by her exclusion, she vengefully instigated a quarrel among the goddesses that precipitated the Trojan War.
Brown [Mike Brown (Caltech), co-discoverer of Eris, who precisely calculated Eris to be 27 percent more massive than Pluto [2]] had indeed done his classical homework and dutifully captured Eris's destabilizing influence on the Pluto problem, causing a war of its own.

The latter war ended with the demotion of Pluto to the status of dwarf planet in 2006. Back to Dysnomia: with a mother like this, it should not come as a surprise that the offspring of dwarf planet Eris inherited ill spirits and soap-opera qualities. Astrophysically, the idea is favored that Dysnomia was born out of a collison between Eris and another KBO [5].

Keywords: astronomy, planetary science, solar system, celestial bodies, nomenclature, mythology, intrigue.

References, notes and more to explore
[1] M. E. Brown, M. A. van Dam, A. H. Bouchez, D. le Mignant, R. D. Campbell, J. C. Y. Chin, A. Conrad, S. K. Hartman, E. M. Johansson, R. E. Lafon, D. L. Rabinowitz, P. J. Stomski, Jr., D. M. Summers, C. A. Trujillo and P. L. Wizinowich: Satellites of the Largest Kuiper Belt Objects. The Astrophysical Journal March 1, 2006, 639, L43-L46 [].
Notice that in this publication Eris is stilled named by its original designation 2003 UB313 (see the second paragraph in my KBO post).
[2]  NASA > Solar System Exploration > Eris and Dysnomia:
[3] Neil deGrasse Tyson: The Pluto Files. W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London, 2009; pages 92 and 93.
[4] Dysnomia, the moon of Eris:
[5] Space Ref > Astronomers Measure Mass of Eris:
[6] Theoi Greek Mythology > Dysnomia:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Acronym in astronomy: KBO for Kuiper belt object

In astronomy, KBO stands for Kuiper belt object. A KBO is an icy object beyond the orbit of Neptune. The KBOs form a disc-shaped ring—named Kuiper belt—billions of kilometers away from the sun [1]. The Kuiper belt is named after the Dutch-born astronomer Gerard Peter Kuiper (1905-1973), who proposed the existence of such a belt in 1951 [2]. The discovery in 1992 of object 1992 QB1, moving beyond the orbit of Neptune [3], marks the beginning of ongoing discoveries and studies of KBOs.

Along with objects of the Oort Cloud, KBOs are trans-Neptunian objects  (TNOs). Some of them resemble Pluto and became to be called Plutinos, rivaling Pluto in mass, size and other properties [4]: In 2003, Brown, Trujillo and Rabinowitz photographed a KBO that they later revealed as the ninth largest solar system body with a mass 27 percent larger than that of Pluto. This objects, officialy designated 2003 UB313, was first named Xena after a fictional warrior princess [5], but was named Eris (Greek goddess of strife, discord, contention and rivalry [6]) in 2006 by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), following the convention of  naming TNOs after creation deities.

Occasionally, the term Edgeworth-Kuiper belt is used instead of simply Kuiper belt to also honor Kenneth Essex Edgeworth (1880-1972), who wrote an early  paper on the evolution of the planetary system and reasoned (speculated) that a reservoir of objects must exist beyond the planets, which, on their trajectory,  enter the inner solar system and appear as comets [7]. Synonymously for KBO, EKBO is used as an acronym for Edgeworth-Kuiper belt object.

If on schedule, NASA's New Horizon spacecraft, which started its journey in January 2006, will visit the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt in 2015, after flying by dwarf planet Pluto [1].

Keywords: astronomy, planetary science, solar system, celestial bodies, terminology.

References and more to explore
[1]  NASA > Solar System Exploration > Kuiper Belt & Oort Cloud: Overview:
[2] The New Netherland Institute > Kuiper, Gerard Peter (1905-1973):
[3] David Jewitt and Jane Luu: Discovery of the candidate Kuiper belt object 1992 QB1. Nature April 22, 1993, 362, pp. 730-732. doi: 10.1038/362730a0.
[4] Neil deGrasse Tyson: The Pluto Files. W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London, 2009; page 89 to 93.
[5] Andy Lloyd: Xena (Eris) and other Extraordinary EKBOs [].
[6] Theoi Greek Mythology > Eris:
[7] Andrew Hollis: Kenneth Essex Edgeworth - A biographical note. J. Brit. Astron. Assoc. 1996, 106 (6), p. 354 [].

Monday, November 21, 2011

Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs) named after creation deities

By international agreement, trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) are named after creation deities [1,2].

Quaoar (also known as 2002 LM60), a TNO that was discovered on June 4, 2002 by astronomers Chad Trujillo and Michael Brown at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), is named after a creation deity of the Native American Tongva people, native to the area in which Caltech is located. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has officially approved the name Quaoar [1-3].

The following list shows a few other TNOs with their name-giving gods and godesses. This list has been extracted from a page by Denis Moskowitz, who has designed beautiful, magically inspiring symbols for some TNOs based on the “life” or a characteristic attribute of the name-giving deity [4].
  • Eris (2003), named after the Greek goddess Eris (also worshipped in modern Discordianism)
  • Ixion (2001), named after the Greek mythological figure Ixion
  • Haumeaon (2005), named after the Hawaiian goddess of childbirth
  • Makemake (2005), named after the Rapanui fertility god Makemake
  • Orcus (2004),  named after the Roman god Orcus (god of the dead)
  • Sedna (2003), named after the Inuit goddess Sedna
  • Varuna (2000), named after Hindu god Varuna
The number, enclosed in parentheses and following a TNO name, is the year of that TNO's discovery.

I am wondering, if the world's cultural and spiritual heritage will provide enough deities for all the TNO discoveries to come with future advances in space observation and voyaging.

Keywords: astronomy, planetary science, solar system, mythology, nomenclature.

References and more to explore
[1] Neil deGrasse Tyson: The Pluto Files. W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London, 2009; see footnote on page 90.
[2] Universe - Galaxies and Stars > Quaoar is a Trans-Neptunian object orbiting the Sun:
[3]  NASA > A Cold New World:
[4] Denis Moskowitz: Symbols for large trans-Neptunian objects [].

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Acronym in astronomy: TNO for trans-Neptunian object

Since the deomotion of Pluto to dwarf planet status, Neptune is the outermost planet of our solar system. A body orbiting the sun beyond Neptune's orbit is called a trans-Neptunian object, TNO for short.  For example, Eris, Pluto (!),  2005 FY9, 2003 EL61, Sedna, Orcus, Quaoar and Varuna are TNOs (shown to scale and in reference to the size of Earth in Figure 4.9 in [1]). Many more are known—classified, numbered, but often without a common name [2,3].

Often, TNOs come in pairs, called binaries:  two bodies with similar masses that orbit each other [4]. Pluto and its moon Charon are such a couple [5].

TNOs are not planets. Three TNOs are called dwarf planets: Pluto, Eris, and Makemake [6]. Ceres also is a dwarf planet, but not a TNO. Ceres belongs to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The use of the prefix trans (typically meaning through) in the term trans-Neptunian has occasionally been critized, since, what really is meant is ultra in the sense of  beyond. However, then we would get the term ultra-Neptunian object and the acronym UNO. The latter stands for United Nations Organization, concerned primarily with one object—our home planet.

Keywords: astronomy, planetary science, solar system, celestial bodies, terminology.

References and more to explore
[1] Neil deGrasse Tyson: The Pluto Files. W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London, 2009; pages 67, 91 and others.
[2] IAU Minor Planet Center > List Of Transneptunian Objects:
[3] List of Known Trans-Neptunian Objects:
[4] The Planetary Society > Explore > Space Topics -Trans-Neptunian Objects:
[5] 30 Years Since Charon Reveals Pluto To Be A Binary Planet System:
[6] IAU > Fourth dwarf planet named Makemake

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Two Pluto moons discovered in June 2005 named Nix and Hydra by IAU

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) officially named two small Pluto moons, discovered in June 2005, Nix (the inner of the two) and Hydra (the outer of the two) [1-3]. The discovery was made by the Pluto Companion Search Team, led by Hal Weaver and Alan Stern, using the high-resolution capabilities of the Hubble Space Telescope. Nix and Hydra are roughly 5,000 times fainter than dwarf planet Pluto itself.

Pluto was discovered in 1930. The first discovery of a Pluto moon, Charon, happened in 1978. The two Pluto satellites spotted in 2005 were originally designated S/2005 P 2 and S/2005 P 1 and then named Nyx and Hydra, respectively, by the discovery team [1,2]. But the Greek name Nyx had already been taken as an identifier for asteroid 3908 and the IAU changed Nyx to its Egyptian equivalent, Nix [1].

Pluto was named after the god of the underworld. Mythologically, Nix and Hydra fit right in there: Nix is the goddess of darkness and night [4]. Hydra is a terrifying monster with the body of a serpent and nine heads [5].  

Keywords: astronomy, planetary science, solar system, celestial bodies, discovery, nomenclature, mythology

References and more to explore
[1] Michael Buckley and Maria Martinez: Pluto's Two Small Moons Christened Nix and Hydra [].
[2] Richard A. Lovett: Pluto's New Moons Named Nix, Hydra [].
[3] Neil deGrasse Tyson: The Pluto Files. W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London, 2009; pages 44 and 45.
[4] Greek goddess Nyx was the personification of the Night:
[5] Ron Leadbetter in Encyclopedia Mythica: Hydra [].

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mars moons Deimos and Phobos named after the Greek god of fear and his twin-brother

Our neighbor planet Mars has two small moons. They were discovered in 1877 by the American astronomer Asaph Hall using the giant 26-inch refractor of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D. C. [1,2]. The moons were named Deimos and Phobos: Deimos after the Greek god of fear, dread and terror; Phobos after Deimos' twin-brother, who is associated with panic fear, flight and battlefield rout [3]. Both are sons of the Greek god of war, Ares, namesake of their parent planet. Summa summarum, a scary family!

Who came up with the names? According to a NASA site, discoverer Asaph Hall himself named the Mars satellites based on Homer's Illiad. But other sources indicate that the names were suggested by Henry Madan, a science master of Eaton [4,5]. Interestingly, Henry was the brother of  Falconer Madan, whose granddaughter Venetia Burney suggested the name Pluto for an object, which at that time was referred to as Planet X.  Neil deGrasse Tyson remarks that naming of cosmic objects was already in Venetia's bloodline [5]. Apparently, you need to grow up in a family fluent in mythology and observant of the latest planet and moon detections.

Keywords: physics, astronomy, planetary science, solar system, discovery, history, Greek mythology, nomenclature

References and more to explore
[1] NASA >  Exploration > Under the Moons of Mars (by Steven J. Dick):
[2] Ulf von Rauchhaupt: Der Neunte Kontinent - Die wissenschaftliche Eroberung des Mars. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 2009; page 26.
[3] Theoi Greek Mythology >Deimos & Phobos:
[4] Planet Facts > Phobos and Deimos - Moons of
[5] Neil deGrasse Tyson: The Pluto Files. W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London, 2009; page 10.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pluto named by an 11-year-old schoolgirl after the god of the underworld

Pluto was discovered in 1930 by a  24-year-old “amateur” astronomer from Illinois, Clyde Tombaugh (1906-1997) [1-4]. He found Pluto photographically as a faint, slowly moving spot while working at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff (Arizona) searching for a mysterious Planet X, whose existence had been proposed to account for perturbations in the motions of Neptune.

The newly discovered Planet X was then taken for the ninth planet and needed a name that followed the Roman nomenclature, which “identifies” planets as Roman gods and godesses—planet Earth is an exception. Neil deGrasse Tyson describes how Venetia Burney, an 11-year-old schoolgirl and granddaughter of Falconer Madan (a retired librarian of Oxford University), suggested the name Pluto over breakfast, after her grandfather had read to her the news story about the discovered planet [4]. From mythology she knew that Pluto was the god of the dead and underworld. What better name for an object orbiting in near darkness far away from the sun? Oxford professor and astronomer royal Herbert Hall Turner, a friend of Madan and known in physics for coining the term parsec as a unit of astronomical distance, forwarded Venetia's suggestion to fellow astronomers at the Lowell Observatory: although there were other suggestions, Pluto made it. Use the old boy network, young girl!  

In 2006 the Internatioal  Astronomical Union (IAU) voted for Pluto's demotion to the status of dwarf planet [4]. Considering that Pluto indeed is a dwarf planet makes its discovery in the pre-space-telescope and pre-spacecraft era even greater. And what does size and status of an object matter when an 11-year old girl came up with a powerful name for it.

Keywords: physics, astronomy, planetary science, solar system, discovery, history, nomenclature

References and more to explore
[1] Academy of Achievement > Clyde Tombaugh Biography:
[2] Clyde Tombaugh, 1906-1997:
[3] Kansapedia > Clyde Tombaugh:
[4] Neil deGrasse Tyson: The Pluto Files. W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London, 2009; pages 7 to 9 and others.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The term parsec, coined by Oxford professor Herbert Hall Turner

A parsec is a unit of length used to express astronomical distance. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Physics, a parsec is the distance at which the mean radius of the earth's orbit subtends an angle of one second of arc [1]. A more illustrative definition is given by Neil deGrasse Tyson in a footnote [2]:
A unit of distance in astronomy equal to 3.26 light-years, itself equal to about 19 trillion miles and derived from the distance a star would have to be for it to exhibit a parallax angle of 1 second of arc (hence par-sec) against the background stars as Earth orbits from one side of the Sun to the other [text coloring by post author].
Tyson further tells us that the Oxford professor and former astronomer royal Herbert Hall Turner coined the term parsec. In 1930, Turner also played his part in promoting the name Pluto for a cosmic object discovered by Clyde Tombaugh and at first referred to as Planet X.    

The Google calculator result for 1 parsec:

1 Parsec = 3.08568025 × 1016 meters

Still not satisfied? Find some nice video animations and lectures at (for example Parsec definition and What is a Parsec?).

Keywords: physics, astronomy, units, history

References and more to explore
[1] Alan Isaacs: Oxford Dictionary of Physics. Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, 2003 (reissued fourth edition). 
[2] Neil deGrasse Tyson: The Pluto Files. W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London, 2009; page 9, 11.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Uranus moons named after characters in Shakespearean plays

Planet Uranus has an interesting naming history itself and so do have its moons. They are named for characters in plays written by William Shakespeare and also for characters in Alexander Pope's “Rape of the Lock” [1,2]:
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream: Oberon, Puck (originally designated S/1985 U1), Titania;
  • As You Like It: Rosalind (originally designated S/1986 U4);
  • Hamlet: Ophelia (originally designated S/1986 U8); 
  • King Lear: Cordelia (originally designated S/1986 U7);
  • Much Ado About Nothing: Margaret (originally designated S/2003 U3);
  • Othello, the Moor of Venice: Desdemona (originally designated S/1986 U6);
  • Romeo and Juliet: Juliet (originally designated S/1986 U2);
  • The Merchant of Venice: Portia (originally designated S/1986 U1);
  • The Taming of the Shrew: Bianca (originally designated S/1986 U9);
  • The Tempest: Ariel, Caliban (originally designated S/1997 U1), Ferdinand (originally designated S/2001 U2),  Francisco (originally designated S/2001 U3), Miranda, Prospero (originally designated S/1999 U3), Setebos (originally designated S/1999 U1), Stephano (originally designated S/1999 U2), Sycorax (originally designated S/1997 U2), Trinculo (originally designated S/2001 U1);
  • The Winter's Tale: Perdita (originally designated S/1986 U10);
  • Timon of Athens: Cupid (originally designated S/2003 U2);
  • Troilus and Cressida: Cressida (originally designated S/1986 U3);
  • Rape of the Lock: Belinda (originally designated S/1986 U5), Mab (originally designated S/2003 U1), Umbriel.
The Tempest caused a storm of ten moon names.

The two largest Uranian moons, Oberon and Titania, were discovered in 1787 by William Herschel [2], who discovered Uranus itself. Ariel and Umbriel were discovered in 1851 by William Lassell [2]. Almost a century later, Gerard Kuiper discovered Miranda in 1948 [2]. The remaining moons, having a systematic original designation, were discovered at the Palomar Observatory (California), at observatories on the island of Hawaii, at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory  (Victoria, British Columbia) and at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (Chile) as well as remotely via the the Hubble Space Telescope and the Voyager 2 spacescraft.

The following is an alphabetical list of the 27 Uranian moons, each linked to a NASA page with details on discovery and (re)naming:

Ariel, Belinda, Bianca, Caliban, Cordelia, Cressida, Cupid, Desdemona, Ferdinand, Francisco, Juliet, Mab, Margaret, Miranda, Oberon, Ophelia, Perdita, Portia, Prospero, Puck, Rosalind, Setebos, Stephano, Sycorax, Titania, Trinculo, Umbriel.

Often, more is known about the eponymous character of the fictional work than about the actual moon. 

Keywords: astronomy, planetary science, nomenclature, dramatic literature

References and more to explore
[1] Neil deGrasse Tyson: The Pluto Files. W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London, 2009; page 9.
[2] National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) > Solar System Exploration > Uranus: Moons [].

A planet named George

Georgium Sidus was one of the early names of planet Uranus. The name was given to the planet by its discoverer Sir William Herschel to honor George III., who was King of England when the planet was discovered by Herschel in 1781 [1]. Georgium Sidus means the star of George III. of England. The planet was also called Herschel after its discoverer.

Neil deGrasse Tyson writes that he finds “something unsettling about a planet named George, even if he is a king” [2]. Others must have felt the same way and George was eventually named Uranus, after a god known from Greek and Roman mythology.  In Greek mythology Uranus was the son or husband of Gaia (Earth) and father of Chronos (Time) and the Titans [1].  There are differing and confusing versions of the sex-life of Uranus. Somehow, he ended up being castrated: Uranus (the sky) separated from Gaia (Mother Earth) [3]. In  Roman mythology Uranus is the god of the sky. In modern astronomy Uranus is the seventh of the eight planets (after Pluto's fall from planet status) of the solar system, orbiting the sun between the orbits of his outer-planet companions Saturn and Neptun.

Keywords: astronomy, planetary science, nomenclature

References and more to explore
[1] Uranus, Georgium Sidus. Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) [].
[2] Neil deGrasse Tyson: The Pluto Files. W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London, 2009; page 8.
[3] Uranus - God of the Heavens:

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Acronym in virology: XMRV for xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus

XMRV stands for xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus. XMRV is a gammaretrovirus that has been linked to prostate cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome. But such links are still hotly debated or ruled out [1-3].

Indicated by its name, XMRV belongs to the group of murine leukemia viruses (MLVs). XMRV is called MLV-related, since, when it was first found in samples of prostate cancer tumors from human patients, it  seemed to be a cousin of MLVs known to cause cancer in murine (mouse) host. Wouldn't an acronym like XMLVRV or xMLVrV fit better? The adjective xenotropic indicates that XMRV is an oncornavirus (a virus containing single-stranded RNA) that does not produce disease in its natural host and replicates only in tissue culture cells derived from a different species [4].

Taxonomically, XMRV falls into class VI of the Baltimore Classification System.

Keywords: retrovirology, mysterious diseases, virus nomenclature, taxon short notation

References and more to explore
[1] O. Hohn et al.: Lack of evidence for xenotropic leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) in German prostate cancer patients. Retrovirology 2009, 6, 92.
doi: 10.1186/1742-4690-6-92.
[2] J. Cohen and M. Enserink: False Posi±ive. Science September 23, 2011, 333 (6050),  pp. 1694-1701.
doi: 10.1126/science.333.6050.1694.
[3] G. Simmins et al.: Failure to Confirm XMRV/MLVs in the Blood of Patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Multi-Laboratory Study. Science November 11, 2011, 334 (6057), pp. 814-817.doi: 10.1126/science.1213841.
[4] Xenotropic virus:

Friday, November 11, 2011

Acronym in earth science: LIP for large igneous province

In earth science, LIP stands for large igneous province. LIPs are deposits of igneous rocks with impressive dimensions that often are hundred of meters thick and may cover over thousands of square kilometers [1]. A LIP is connected to a hotspot [2,3]: examples include the Dekkan/Réunion Traps (India and Indian Ocean), the Columbia River Basin Flood Basalt with source at Yellowstone (North America) and the Permo-Triassic Siberian Traps (hotspot cooled down or relocated?). LIP eruptions are catastrophic, environmentally devastating, and humans have never witnessed one [4]. They probably never will, or if, will not have much time to talk and twitter about it.

Recent research on the Siberian Traps (built by a gigantic eruption or series of eruptions about 250 million years ago) suggests that its magma source contained a significant amount of recycled oceanic crust [4,5]. This may explain the following mass extinction, which may have been triggered by massive degassing of carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen chloride (HCl), probably already at the onset of the eruption. The amount of gas can roughly be estimated from volume data measured during modern basalt-lava eruptions, which allow scale-up to a LIP event.  

Keywords: geology, volcanism, magma production, flood-basalt, lithosphere

References and more to explore
[1] David Bressan: Large Igneous Provinces and Mass Extinctions. September 16, 2011 [].
[2] World map of igneous provinces and hotspots:
[3] Flood Basalt Map of the World:
[4] Paul B. Wignall: Lethal volcanism. Nature September 15, 2011, 477 (7364), pp. 285-286 []. 
[5] Stephan V. Sobolov et al.: Linking mantle plumes, large igneous provinces and environmental catastrophes. Nature September 15, 2011, 477 (7364), pp. 312-316. doi: 10.1038/nature10385.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Old English mierce, meaning “frontier people”

The Old English word mierce means “frontier people” [1] or “people of the marches (boundaries)” [2]. From this word the name Mercia derived. In the seventh century Mercia was a Anglo-Saxon kingdom in England [1-3], surrounded by Welsh Land (west), Northumbria (north) , East Anglia (east) and Essex and Wessex (south).

The Kingdom of Mercia (Mierce) lost its independency in the eighth century,  when Wessex became the dominant power. In later centuries the Mercians had to share their land with Danes—until the Norman Conquest in 1066. Mercia “disappeared” from the map. But the discovery of 3,500 pieces of treasure, unearthed on a Staffordshire farm in 2009, brought Mercia and its time back on the map [1]: What is now called the Staffordshire Hoard, a cache of military hardware and a few holy relics, was buried in the second half of the seventh century amidst Mercian settlements.

The Mercian's frontier was the border to Wales. Mercians and their Welsh neighbors were fighting battles and one only can speculate whether the richly ornamented weapons were buried for safekeeping, ritual reasons or in fulfillment of a disarmament agreement.

Keywords: geography, history, Britain, Anglo-Saxon authority, weaponry, gold and garnets

References and more to explore
[1] Caroline Alexander: Magical Mystery Hoard. National Geographic November 2011, 220 (5), pp. 38-60 [].
[2] Mercia [].
[3] Historical map (800 A. D.): Kingdom of Mercia (Mierce) [].

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Lippia palmeri, a Central American shrub now called “Mexican oregano”

Many plants of the genus Lippia (Verbenaceae) show beneficial activities assumed to be based on oils and phenolic compounds, such as flavonoids, that have been extracted from samples of Lippia species. Antimalarial, spasmolitic, sedative, hypotensive and anti-inflammatory activities have been reported and reviewed [1]. Leaves of the species Lippia palmeri have a tradition as food seasoning. Russell Magnaghi writes in a review on the agricultural history of Baja California that the Jesuits, who had a presence on this Mexican peninsula from 1697 until 1768, replaced oregano (also named marjoram, brought along from Mediterranean countries) by Lippia palmeri [2]. Hence, the name “Mexican Oregano.”

Ask your waiter or waitress, what kind of oregano they use, during your next dinner or lunch at a Mexican restaurant—unless you already figured out by tasting.

Keywords:  ethnopharmacology, botany, herbs, cooking, American Indians, Jesuit missions

References, notes and more to explore
[1] M. E. Pascual, K. Slowing, E. Carretero, D. Sánchez Mata and A. Villar: Lippia: traditional uses, chemistry and pharmacology: a review. J. Ethnopharm. August 2011, 76 (3), pp. 201-214.
doi: 10.1016/S0378-8741(01)00234-3
[2] Russell M. Magnaghi: Mission Fruit. Natural History October 2011, 119 (9), pp. 22-29.
[3] See herbarium samples at

Not a misspelling: sea momster

For several Mesozoic aquatic reptiles, evidence for life birth had been found, but, until recently, not including plesiosaurs. Now, viviparity for a Late Cretaceous plesiosaur,  a 78-million-year-old Polycotylus latippinus, has been reported [1]. A fossil sample of this “sea monster” has been discovered, including an adult female plesiosaur with a mess of small bones nestled in its abdominal area:  “Since those bones show no sign of having been ingested by the adult, the adult specimen is the only known pregnant plesiosaur fossil,” writes Adam Hadhazy in a recent Natural History samplings column with the title Sea Momster [2].

 The fossil, which was discovered in 1987, remained in storage at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County for a long time, but is now on display in the museum's Dinosaur Hall [2-4].

Keywords: paleobiology, dinosaurs, carnivorous reptile, pregnancy, fossil embryo

References and more to explore
[1] F. R. O'Keefe and L. M. Chiappe: Vivparity and K-selected Life History in a Mesozoic Marine Plesiosaur (Reptilia, Sauropterygia). Science August 12, 2011, 333 (6044), pp. 870-873.  
doi: 10.1126/science.1205689.
[2] Adam: Hadhazy: Sea Momster. Natural History October 2011, 119 (9), page 6.
[3] Jennifer Welsh: Oh baby! Ancient 'sea monster' was pregnant. LiveScience 8/11/2011
[4] Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County > Dinosaur Hall Is Open

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Acronym pair in geography and conservation biology: HCP/NCCP

In the term HCP/NCCP the acronym HCP stands for Habitat Conservation Plan and the acronym NCCP stands for Natural Community Conservation Plan [1-3]. Two plans for a unifying concept.  These plans provide a framework to protect natural resources in eastern Contra Costa County and eastern Almeda County in California. The promise is the coexistence of endangered species, wetlands and ecosystems next to urban landscapes. The goal is interconnected open space, accounting for the island extinction principle of conservation biology teaching that large preserves help species more than small ones, linked preserves better than separated ones, and broad preserves better than skinny ones [1].

Interconnected open space also makes parks, preserves, study areas, landmarks and trails better accessible for people by providing entry points close to their neighborhoods. It offers diverse routing options and less motorized activity to reach recreation hot-spots or serene and tranquil retreats. The envisioned parkland east of the buzzling Bay Area will fuse wilderness areas, newly acquired acres and existing parks such as the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, Mt. Diablo State Park, Los Vaqueros Reservoir and the Sunol/Ohlone Regional Wilderness. Open space networking does not have to stop there, but may continue south to Henry W. Coe State Park—maybe even to Pinnacles National Monument one day. HCP/NCCP is an exciting and pioneering showcase of wilderness planning and regrowth.

Keywords: natural habitats, ecology, recreation, East Bay Regional Parks

References and more to explore
[1] John Hart: Planned Wilderness. A Big Deal for East Bay Open Space. Bay Nature October-December 2011, 11 (4), pp. 16-19, 28 [].
[2] East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy:
[3] NCCP Plan Summary - East Contra Costa County:

Polygynandry: many-to-many marriage or relationship

The term polygynandry refers to a relationship between a group of females with a group of males. Group marriages are only found within a few vertebrate species. For example, in clans of acorn woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus), which form reproductive arrangements of breeding females, breeding males and a few non-breeding adult off-spring helping their parents for up to five years (inspite of reaching sexual maturity at one year of age). Each breeding bird attempts to mate with all opposite-gender breeders in the clan [1,2].

Combined polyandrous (having two or more male partners, husbands) and polygynous (having two or more female partners, wives) patterns of mating have also been observed in populations of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) [3], the Neotropical frog Allobates femoralis [4], the dusky pipefish (Syngnathus floridae) [5] and the sea spider (Ammothea hilgendorfi) [6]; just to name a few other species exhibiting polygynandrous “life style.”

Keywords: biology, sex, reproduction, breeding, marital community

References and more to explore
[1] Kate Marianchild: Acorn Woodpeckers, So Happy Together. Bay Nature October-December 2011, 11, (4), page 7 [].
[2] Joseph Haydock and Walter D. Koenig: Reproductive skew in the polygynandrous acorn woodpecker. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA May 14, 2002, 99 (10), pp. 7178-7183 [].
[3] Philip J. Baker, Stephan M. Funk, Michael W. Bruford and Stephen Harris: Polygynandry in a red fox population: implications for the evolution of group living in canids? Behavioral Ecology 2004, 15 (5), pp. 766-778. 
doi: 10.1093/beheco/arh077.
[4] Eva Ursprung, Max Ringler, Robert Jehle and Walter Hödl: Strong male/male competition allows nonchoosy females: high levels of polygynandry in territorial frog with paternal care. Mol. Ecol. 2011, 20 (8), pp. 1759-1771 [].
[5] Adam G. Jones and John C. Avise: Polygynandry in the dusky pipefish (Syngnathus floridae) revealed by microsatellite DNA markers. Evolution 1997, 51 (5), pp. 1611-1622 [].
[6] F. S. Barreto and J. C. Avise: Polygynandry and sexual size dimorphism in the sea spider Ammothea hilgendorfi (Pycnogonida: Ammotheidae), a marine arthropod with brood-carrying meals. Mol. Ecol. 2008, 17 (18), pp. 4164-4175 [].

Friday, November 4, 2011

German-English: classification of articles in the journal “Angewandte Chemie” and its International Edition

Journal articles are often labeled by type- and/or content-specifying words appearing in the article header. Here are examples of type labels in German, seen in the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie (Angew. Chem.), and their English counterparts in the International Edition (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl.):

Aufsatz (m.)Review
Berichtigung (f.)Corrigendum
Buchbesprechung (f.)Book Review
Kurzaufsatz (m.)Minireview
Nachrichten (f.)News
Nachruf (m.)Obituary
Vorschau (f.)Preview
Zuschrift (f.)Communication

The grammatical genders masculine (m.) and feminine (f.) are given for the German terms. Some labels such as essay and highlight are used to classify articles in both the German and English editions. The word “highlight” is an anglicism. It could be translated as Rampenlichtaufsatz (too long and very odd) or as Höhepunkt (literally meaning high point or climax), but often is not—highlighting the frequent takeover and use of certain English words by German speakers and writers, as if they were part of their mother tongue. 

Keywords: bilingual publication, editing, translation, labeling, classification, linguistics.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

English- and German-language articles in “Angewandte Chemie” via DOI

Angewandte Chemie means Applied Chemistry in German. This is the title of a chemistry journal, published under this name since 1947. Precursor titles were Die Chemie (The Chemistry), Zeitschrift für Angewandte Chemie (Journal of Applied Chemistry) and Zeitschrift für die Chemische Industrie (Journal for the Chemical Industry) [1]. Under the last mentioned title, the journal was founded in 1887 by Ferdinand Fischer. Articles can be accessed online now (usually not for free) back to that year [2-4].

An associated English-language edition was launched in 1962 under the title Angewandte Chemie International Edition in English, abbreviated as Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. Recently published articles are conveniently located “bilingually” by the consistent use of the Document Object Identifier (DOI). For example, the links to the biochemistry-history essay by Will and Hamprecht “Everything Now Seemed So Simple to Me ...”: Feodor Lynen (1911-1979), a Hero of Biochemistry and its German-language version “Mir erschien jetzt alles so einfach ...” - Feodor Lynen (1911-1979), ein Großer der Biochemie are mutually associated by exchange of  ie for ge, or vice versa, in the DOI string:
Unfortunalely, this does not work for “older” publications. I couldn't find a detailed description of the German vs. English DOI format policy. But I assume that articles are always published in the same order and that one can systematically find German-English pairs by looking through corresponding same-year, same-issue listings. Notice the difference in volume numbers:

Vie = Vge + 75,

where Vie and  Vge are the volume numbers of the International and German edition, respectively.

Keywords: library, search, translation, bilingual education, bilingual publication, multi-language bibliography 

References and browsing hints
[1] ChemEurope > Encyclopedia > Angewandte_Chemie:
[2] International Edition Overview:
[3] Browse all issues of the International Edition:
[4] Browse all issues of the German-language edition: