Now’s your chance to name a crater. Scientists from NASA, John Hopkins and Carnegie are holding a contest to commemorate the last days of the MESSENGER probe.

Back on March 18, 2011, MESSENGER became the first spacecraft to enter orbit around Mercury. Since then, MESSENGER’s mission has been a huge success. More than 260,000 images have been taken by the spacecraft. And, every mission objective scientists sought was completed.

Here’s just some of what MESSENGER was able to accomplish.

For over 3 years, MESSENGER has remotely collected and transmitted back information about the planet closest to the Sun. The findings have revolutionized our thinking about Mercury’s interior structure, its formation, relation to the other planets, geology, and space environment. Remarkably, MESSENGER has confirmed that deposits of water ice are lurking within craters near the planet’s poles that are permanently shadowed from the Sun’s rays. Despite Mercury’s small size, it has an internally generated magnetic field similar to Earth’s (whereas Venus and Mars do not have magnetic fields today). Mercury’s surface has been reshaped by gigantic eruptions of lava, as well as episodes of explosive volcanism. MESSENGER’s chemical sensors indicate that Mercury is far richer in elements that were not expected to be plentiful on a planet that formed so close to the Sun. And discovery of a curious landform called “hollows” suggests that in some places solid rock is being lost to space in a process similar to sublimation.

Now, to the naming process. Here’s the five craters you’ll have a chance of naming.

There are some strict rules for the naming process. After all, these are going to be recognized by The International Astronomical Union (IAU). Their rules for craters on Mercury are specific. “Deceased artists, musicians, painters, and authors who have made outstanding or fundamental contributions to their field and have been recognized as art historically significant figures for more than 50 years,” according to the IAU website.

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Check out the IAU website for names of other features across every planet and some moons. Pretty cool stuff.

Anyone can submit a name, as long as you are not part of MESSENGER’s Education and Public Outreach team.

Have a good name? Fill out the form here. The naming competition will be open from December 15 to January 15.

A Meteor Shower on Mercury?

MESSENGER continues to perform science in its last few weeks. NASA scientists believe Mercury is being impacted by a periodic meteor shower.

“The possible discovery of a meteor shower at Mercury is really exciting and especially important because the plasma and dust environment around Mercury is relatively unexplored,” said Rosemary Killen, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

NASA scientists believe regular surges of calcium in Mercury’s exosphere points to a meteor shower. Since in Mercury orbit, MESSENGER has observed seasonal spikes of calcium.

“If our scenario is correct, Mercury is a giant dust collector,” said Joseph Hahn, a planetary dynamist in the Austin, Texas, office of the Space Science Institute. “The planet is under steady siege from interplanetary dust and then regularly passes through this other dust storm, which we think is from comet Encke.”

Image credit: NASA

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