Thursday, March 29, 2012

Vastitas Borealis, a lowland plain on Mars named for its vastness and northern location

The name for the Martian lowland plain Vastitas Borealis derives from the Latin words vastitas and boreus, meaning vastness (!) or desolation and northern, respectively. This name was coined by the Turkish-born astronomer of Greek descent, Eugène Michael Antoniadi (1870-1944), who is well known in planetary science for his magnum opus on the topography of the Red Planet: La planète Mars (1930) [1-3]. In this book, Antoniadi noted the distinct albedo feature of the vast area that encircles the northern polar region. In 1973, the name Vastitas Borealis was officially adopted by the International Astronomical Union [3].

As part of the Martian northern lowlands, the Vastitas Borealis is of continued interest along with the idea of an ancient ocean that may have filled the basins of the northern hemisphere. A stretch of  the southern extent of the Vastitas Borealis formation is marked by the Deuteronilus contact, interpreted to be a shoreline [4]. The Vastitas Borealis has long been suspected of being sedimentary in origin and this hypothesis is now strongly supported by the findings of recent radar-sounding surveys of the region, using  the MARSIS instrument on board of the  European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter and the SHARAD instrument of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter [5].

The Vastitas Borealis may be considered a vast and monotonous surface feature, but it is hiding scientific treasures underneath. 

Keywords: areology, planetary landscapes, oceanography, history, nomenclature.

References and more to explore
[1] The Encyclopedia of Science: Antoniadi, Eugène Michael (1870-1944) [].
[2] A. J. S. Rayl, C. Dressing and L. Lakdawalla: Space Topics: Planetary Exploration Timelines - A Mars Timeline: 1700 to 1959 []
[3] InfoRapid Knowledge Portal:
[4] L. M. V. Martel: Ancient Floodwaters and Seas on Mars. Planetary Science Research Discoveries (PSRD), July 16, 2003 [].
[5] J. Matson: Swimming on Mars. Scientific American April 2012, 306 (4), p. 22 [].

Related posts on naming Martian surface features:
Airy Crater, Columbia Hills, Eberswalde Crater, Gale Crater, Gusev Crater, Mie Crater, Planitia and Planum, Valles Marineris.

No comments:

Post a Comment