I think that the relevant naming 'authority' for e.g. craters on the Moon (and Mars) is the International Astronomical Union. Besides weak spots in the system, the basic idea is that people or institutions can propose names for a crater. This is usually done for paying respect and honour to important and/or deceased members of the space exploration and astronomy communities. Notable examples are the Tsiolkovskiy crater (after Konstantin Tsiolkovsky) or a group of seven lunar craters named after the crew of STS-51-L.

I have observed that the teams of e.g. the Mars Exploration Rovers and Mars Science Lab also give names to a lot of objects, rocks and mountains etc along their routes. Those names are then used in (scientific) literature, too. What are the official procedures for naming such objects, if there are any? Do they accept proposals (from non-team-members) and/or are there examples of this happening in the past?

As odd as this question may be, it is relevant with respect to 'exploration'. The first thing humans do, if they discover something new, is giving names.


According to the wikepedia

Names for Mars rocks are largely unofficial designations used for ease of discussion purposes, as the International Astronomical Union 's official Martian naming system declares that objects smaller than 100 m (330 ft) are not to be given official names. Because of this some less significant rocks seen in photos returned by Mars rovers have been named more than once, and others have even had their names changed later due to conflicts or even matters of opinion. Often rocks are named after the children or family members of astronauts or NASA employees.


When images are first obtained of the surface of a planet or satellite, a theme for naming features is chosen and a few important features are named, usually by members of the appropriate IAU task group (a commonly accepted planet-naming group). Later, as higher resolution images and maps become available, additional features are named at the request of investigators mapping or describing specific surfaces, features, or geologic formations. Anyone may suggest that a specific name be considered by a task group. If the members of the task group agree that the name is appropriate, it can be retained for use when there is a request from a member of the scientific community that a specific feature be named. Names successfully reviewed by a task group are submitted to the IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN). Upon successful review by the members of the WGPSN, names are considered provisionally approved and can be used on maps and in publications as long as the provisional status is clearly stated. Provisional names are then presented for adoption to the IAU's General Assembly, which met triennially in the past, and which now adopts nomenclature for planetary surface features as required. A name is not considered to be official — that is, "adopted" — until the General Assembly has given its approval.


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