Planetary Cartography

Exploration and Education

6709.2 - The cognitive role of planetary toponyms in the interpretation of surface geology

Thursday, July 6
4:30 PM - 4:50 PM
Location: Harding

Maps are powerful tools in effectively communicating complex geospatial information visually. An essential cartographic tool on maps is the nomenclature or the words typed onto the visual layers of maps. IAU’s planetary nomenclature is a fully artificial system and yet its historic development and current practice have produced an incoherent system that in cases inhibits the effectiveness of planetary maps as tools of education and public outreach. At the same time, this system effectively keeps planetary nomenclature free of names only created by individual ambitions or commercial interests.
Planetary nomenclature was born out from three sources. When telescopes became powerful enough to resolve relief features of the Moon, in the 1640s, three astronomers produced maps of it and all created different, but coherent and full-scale toponymic systems: Langrenus in 1645, Hevelius in 1647 and Grimaldi and Riccioli in 1651. It should be noted that at the same time another, similarly detailed map was also made, by Anton Maria Schyrle of Rhaetia in 1645, but he used only letters to identify some features and did not bother establishing a nomenclature system for the albeit visually well-defined and distinguished features. His nomenclature-less map was forgotten.
Astronomers established the nomenclature by identifying and naming only those features that they could cognitively identify and distinguish. Since lunar geology was nonexistent and the nature of the features were largely unknown at that time, the system of nomenclature is based on 17th century planetary science and largely on morphology or albedo but not geology. Instead of classifying features based on their origin, this system has named features rather arbitrarily. The resulting colorful system of toponyms together with similar but unnamed features makes it difficult to understand the geology of the Moon by solely relying on reading a map. The purpose of a map is to effectively communicate geospatial information. In this paper we argue that the current system of planetary nomenclature actually inhibits this communication instead of making it more effective. Planetary nomenclature today is a piece of art or a renaissance poem merged with strictly defined terms and names from which the type of feature and the planetary body in question is identifiable from the name only. However, as with many literary works, it may need a poetic retranslation.
In cognitive neuroscience it is known now that “verbal reportability is a key criterion for conscious perception” and someone is aware piece of information only if “he or she can … formulate it with language” (Dehaene 2014 :109). Nomenclature on a map is the key element in forming a verbal link with the visual surface it represents. It is a key part of both planetary cartography, astrogeology and spatial infrastructure (Lawrence et al. 2015). They help interpret, understand, classify and memorize the otherwise arbitrary-appearing landscape. They compress geological and geographical information into single words that can be expanded into long stories of formation and evolution. If this basis or verbal information is flawed, the map itself loses its effectiveness.

Henrik I. Hargitai

Postdoctoral Researcher
NASA Ames Research Center

Henrik I. Hargitai (Ph.D., 2007) is a planetary geomorphologist and media historian. He is a postdoctoral fellow at the NASA Ames Research Center. He taught planetary geomorphology, planetary cartography, typography, and media history as a senior lecturer at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary since 2002. He has a Ph.D. in Earth Sciences and Philosophy (Aesthetics). His study fields include planetary cartography, fluvial geomorphology, and the history and localization of planetary nomenclature. He participated in two Mars Desert Research Station simulations. He is the chair of the ICA Commission on Planetary Cartography.

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Henrik I. Hargitai

Postdoctoral Researcher
NASA Ames Research Center

Henrik I. Hargitai (Ph.D., 2007) is a planetary geomorphologist and media historian. He is a postdoctoral fellow at the NASA Ames Research Center. He taught planetary geomorphology, planetary cartography, typography, and media history as a senior lecturer at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary since 2002. He has a Ph.D. in Earth Sciences and Philosophy (Aesthetics). His study fields include planetary cartography, fluvial geomorphology, and the history and localization of planetary nomenclature. He participated in two Mars Desert Research Station simulations. He is the chair of the ICA Commission on Planetary Cartography.

Presentation(s):

Send Email for Henrik Hargitai


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