As it does every three years, the INTERNATIONAL ASTRONOMICAL UNION has just announced its latest roster of official astronomical names, and as usual, the list is highly eclectic. It's not surprising that CARL SAGAN was honored with a 50-mile-wide crater on Mars. And the names Prospero, Setebos, Stephano, Caliban and Sycorax for five moons of Uranus make sense, since the planet's other moons are mostly named for characters in Shakespeare's The Tempest. Even a moonlet called Petit-Prince is defensible, since it orbits the asteroid Eugenia--and the son of Empress Eugenie and Napoleon III had that rather literal name.
Other names are noteworthy simply for their romanticism. Craters that dot the asteroid Eros include Cupid, Lolita and, somewhat oddly, Don Quixote. But some make no apparent sense at all. Craters on the asteroid Gaspra are named in honor of natural springs (Saratoga, Baden-Baden), and those on the dark asteroid Mathilde honor--no kidding--major coal seams, such as the Lorraine in France. Given this list of increasingly wacky categories, the IAU may want to consider one more honoree when it meets to ratify names three years from now: Alex Trebek, host of TV's Jeopardy! --By Michael D. Lemonick/New York