Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Saturday that the point on the lunar surface where the Chandrayaan-3 lander touched down on August 23 would be called Shiv Shakti. The Prime Minister was delivering an address at the headquarters of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in Bengaluru, where he met with the scientists who contributed to the mission's success.
He also added that the spot where the Chandrayaan-2 crash-landed in 2019 would be called ‘Tiranga’. “In general, there has been a tradition across the world with such kinds of successful missions, to give a name to that point,” Modi said.
Explaining the logic behind the move, ISRO chief K Somnath said, "There is nothing wrong with that. Both are Indian-sounding names. He has a prerogative of naming it being the prime minister of the country.” As explained by the Prime Minister, Somnath reiterated how the name Shiv Shakti made sense as a "combination of man and woman, the contribution of women in ISRO and the need to create that kind of synergy in the organisation".
How are points on lunar surface named?
Founded in 1919, the International Astronomical Union (IAU), is the nodal body for standardising the names of celestial objects. It has a number of task forces, including an executive committee, divisions, commissions, and working groups comprising of expert astronomers from all over the world.
According to the IAU website, new themes for naming features are selected after the first images of a planet's or satellite's surface are obtained. They are typically proposed by the relevant IAU Task Group in cooperation with the mission team.
The Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN) of the IAU finally adopts proposed names after following the protocols. The proposed names are then used on maps and in publications after being accepted as official IAU nomenclature following successful evaluation by vote of the WGPSN members.
IAU further states that the approved names are immediately entered into the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature, and posted on its website. Within three months of the name being listed on the website, any complaints can be voiced by writing the IAU General-Secretary.
However, the procedure of approving a name can take time. For example, China's Chang'e 5 Moon mission landed on the lunar surface in 2020 and the name suggested for the site was Statio Tianchuan. ‘Statio’ means a post or station in Latin and ‘Tianchuan’ comes from a Chinese constellation name, which translates to ship sailing in the Milky Way. The name was approved only in May 2021 by the IAU.
What are the protocols for naming Space objects?
Whether they are landing sites or craters, IAU has given several suggestions in this regard. According to the IAU, the names must be "simple, clear, and unambiguous," and they must not be identical to names that already exist.
Apart from names connected to historical personalities from before the 19th century, all names must be free of any political, military, or religious connotations. The website clearly states, "Commemoration of persons on planetary bodies should not normally be a goal in itself, but may be employed in special circumstances. Persons being so honoured must have been deceased for at least three years, before a proposal may be submitted."
Has India named sites on the Moon ever before?
Shiv Shakti and Tiranga will not be the first instances of Moon sites with Indian names. Earlier in 2020, a Moon crater discovered by Chandrayaan-2 was named 'Sarabhai crater', after Vikram Sarabhai, the pioneer of India's space programmes. Images of the 'Sarabhai Crater', which has a depth of around 1.7 kilometres and a slope of between 25 and 35 degrees, were taken by the Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter.
Prior to this, the spot where Chandrayaan-1 mission crashed in 2008, was named “Jawahar Sthal” after the first Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. The chairman of ISRO from 2003 to 2009, and the then Indian President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam had suggested to name the impact site after Nehru.
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