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The latest out-of-the-box idea to help address funding shortages for researchers, scientists, educators and students goes to Mars. Uwingu has launched an update to their web site with a new project that gives people the opportunity to name over 550,000 craters on Mars. The company hopes to raise over $10M for helping to fund space science and education.
“If we’re successful, it’ll by far be the largest such private sector grant fund in history,” said scientist and Uwingu CEO Alan Stern.
Starting today, the public can get involved in Mars exploration by helping to create Uwingu’s new Mars map, with names for all the approximately 550,000 unnamed, scientifically cataloged craters on Mars.
Just like how Apollo astronauts have named landing site landmarks during their Moon missions or how Mars scientists name features they encounter on robotic missions, Uwingu says, “Now it’s your turn.”
Not only are there craters to name, but you can also help name the map grid rectangles of all the Districts and Provinces in Uwingu’s “address system” – which they say is the first ever address system for Mars.
Prices for naming craters vary, depending on the size of the crater, and begin at $5 dollars. For each crater you purchase and name, Uwingu gives you a shareable Web link and a naming certificate.
Previously, Uwingu has had naming contests for exoplanets, which created a bit of controversy between them and the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which usually heads up naming celestial objects and features.
Stern told Universe Today that he doesn’t think they’ll have any issues with the IAU over this latest venture.
“We’re not going to be stamping names on their maps,” Stern said via phone. “We’re just opening up a public feature naming for the first time. We don’t think we own it, we don’t think anyone owns it. We’re just creating a new application.”
Stern added that in 50 years of Mars exploration, only about 15,000 features have been named. “There are 550,000 craters alone that are begging for names,” and hinted that Uwingu will have opportunities to name other Martian features in the future.
Stern and the rest of the Uwingu team – which includes space notables such as space historian and author Andrew Chaikin, planet hunter Dr. Geoff Marcy, planetary scientist and CEO of the Planetary Science Institute, Dr. Mark Sykes, former Executive Director of the Planetary Society Dr. Louis Friedman, and author Dr. David Grinspoon — know that the names likely won’t officially be approved by the IAU, but said they will be similar to the names given to features on Mars by the mission science teams (such as Mt. Sharp on Mars –the IAU-approved name is Aeolis Mons) or even like Pike’s Peak, a mountain in Colorado which was named by the public, in a way, as early settlers started calling it that, and it soon became the only name people recognized.
“Mars scientists and Apollo astronauts have named features on the Red Planet and the Moon without asking for the IAU’s permission,” Stern said. In the past, Stern has said that he realizes having people pay to suggest names for with no official standing may be controversial, and he’s willing to take the chance – and the heat – to try a innovative ways to provide funding in today’s climate of funding cuts.
“We’re trying to do a public good,” he said. “It’s still the case that nobody in this company gets paid. We really want to create a new lane on that funding highway for people who are out of luck due to budget cuts. This is how we’re how we’re trying to change the world for a little better.”
Uwingu’s procedure in the past is that they put half of the money they make into a fund to be given out as grants, and since they are a commercial company, the rest of the money helps pay the their bills.