On March 18, 2011, NASA's MESSENGER orbiter made history when it became the first man-made spacecraft to orbit planet Mercury, and it did not disappoint with its mission.
The robotic probe has, in fact, surpassed its mission objectives. Compared with Mariner 10, the only other spacecraft that visited Mercury in the mid-1970s, which imaged only 45 percent of the planet's surface, MESSENGER has completely mapped Mercury's surface.
The spacecraft was also supposed to take only 2,500 images of the Solar System's smallest planet, but it now has over 250,000 images sent back to Earth, providing scientists with comprehensive data about Mercury, which orbits closest to the sun.
After traveling 8 billion miles from Earth and gathering data from Mercury for over three years, MESSENGER is, however, close to the end of its life. It is anticipated to run out of fuel sometime in March 2015, after which, gravity will crash it into Mercury's surface.
NASA scientists and members of the MESSENGER teams at the Carnegie Institution for Science and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory wanted to commemorate the success and achievements of the MESSENGER mission, so they kicked off a competition that gives ordinary people the chance to name five currently anonymous craters on Mercury.
The sizes of these depressions range from 24 kilometers to 105 kilometers in diameter. Each of these yet unnamed craters is in a way geologically significant, and researchers are set to continue using their data to unravel some of the mysteries of Mercury.
Those who plan to take part in the competition should follow the International Astronomical Union's (IAU) policies for naming craters on Mercury. The names should be after people who have made significant contributions in the field of Arts and Humanities and have been recognized as art-historically significant figures for no less than five decades. They should have also been deceased for at least three years.
"We are particularly interested in submissions that honor people from nations and cultural groups that are under-represented amongst the currently-named craters," the rules specified. "It is also essential that there are no other features in the Solar System with the same name."
Entries will be accepted starting Dec. 15 until Jan. 15, 2015 at 23:59 UTC. The winning names will be revealed sometime between March or April after the culmination of the mission. Once selected, the names will become official through the IAU, which certifies the names of astronomical features and objects.