By Dr Aswin Sekhar
The International Astronomical Union (IAU), which is the international body in charge of giving official nomenclature and definitions for all celestial bodies, has named one crater on Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, as ‘Revati’. Official communication and approval regarding this was released couple of days ago.
The rest of the craters and features on Charon are named mostly after Western fictional characters from Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who and so on.
Revati is a noteworthy character in the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata. There are references in Mahabharata regarding Revati being from a different ‘yuga’ in multiple scenes of the epic. This has made the character colourful and fascinating to scientists and researchers from a science fiction point of view.
The official charter from the International Astronomical Union (IAU) says on the crater being named Revati says: “Legendary explorers and visionaries, real and fictitious, are among those immortalized by the IAU in the first set of official surface-feature names for Pluto’s largest moon, Charon. The names were proposed by the New Horizons team and approved by IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature.
“The International Astronomical Union (IAU), the internationally recognized authority for naming celestial bodies and their surface features, recently approved a dozen names proposed by NASA's New Horizons team, which led the first reconnaissance of Pluto and its moons in 2015 with the New Horizons spacecraft. The New Horizons team had been using most of the chosen names informally to describe the many valleys, crevices and craters discovered during the first close-up look at the surface of Charon.”
The names approved by the IAU encompass the diverse range of recommendations the team received from around the world during the ‘Our Pluto’ campaign. As well as the efforts of the New Horizons team, members of the public all over the world helped name the features of Charon by contributing their suggestions for the names of the features of this far-flung moon. There were inputs from Indian side as well.
Hence, these names are a reflection of the popularity of these characters amongst global citizens.
The official document of IAU says: “Revati Crater is named for the main character in the Hindu epic narrative Mahabharata — widely regarded as the first in history (circa 400 BC) to include the concept of time travel.”
Instances like these show how much influential fictional characters from books, classics and epics play a role in the mind of scientists and scholars whenever they encounter something new and extraordinary in the celestial world. People tend to make sublime connections and correlations.
This just emphasises the famous saying from legendary physicist Albert Einstein: “Imagination is more important than knowledge!”
The author, Dr Aswin Sekhar, is an Indian astrophysicist working at University of Oslo, Norway.