Thursday, June 16, 2011

11 Indians on Planet Mercury

Name perpetuation is the family dhandha of scores of dynasties in India. The Gandhis are the greatest exponents of this craft in the modern times. They’ve quietly gone about naming airports, bridges, flyovers, gardens, technological parks, stadiums, universities, institutes, tournaments, awards, blocks, areas, roads, streets, nooks, crannies, slums - and believe it or not - even zoos, after Rajiv G and Indira G!

If the branding rights of these public places were to be licensed to companies, it would easily fetch a hundred thousand crores. To think that the Gandhi family has deftly managed to foist their name, without paying a rupee to the Government, speaks volumes about the amazing lack of public discourse in our country.

Despite muscling their way into every Indian city, the Gandhis, have been abysmally unsuccessful in plastering their surname on any celestial object in the sky. Have you ever wondered why you don’t ever find an Indira Gandhi Galaxy or a Rajiv Gandhi Comet on a cosmic map?

The reason is simple: the International Astronomical Union (IAU) as a policy never asks Governments for their suggestions in naming Outer Space entities. The choice is always made by astronomers, committee members of IAU and the discoverer. Sometimes public opinion is sought. Usually, the nomenclature follows pre-drafted conventions.

For example, all the 88 Constellations have Latin names. The year of discovery comes into play in naming Supernovae. Catalog numbers are used for identifying galaxies. While Moons of Jupiter are named after lovers of Zeus! IAU is a bit more liberal with real people names when it comes to christening craters in planets like Mercury.

To give you an idea, the 5 largest craters in Mercury are Rembrandt, Beethoven, Tolstoy, Raphael & Shakespeare. The mid-sized ones sport names like Hemingway, Gibran, Michelangelo, Matisse, Schubert, Vivaldi, Haydn and Rodin. You’d be delighted to know that 11 small Mercurian craters have been dedicated to Indians. They include Valmiki, Vyasa, Asvagosha, Kalidasa, Andaal, Tyagaraja, Tansen, Surdas, Ustaad Mansur, Tagore, and Amrita Sher-Gil. The point to note is - No Gandhi made the cut. Is there an extra terrestrial message there for Rahul G?