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General Studies 3 >> Science & Technology

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1. Context

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Saturday (August 26, 2023) that the point where the Chandrayaan-3 lander touched down on the lunar surface on Wednesday would be named Shiv Shakti. He was speaking at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) headquarters in Bengaluru, where he met the scientists who contributed to the mission’s success. 

2. Ownership of the Moon: Legal Framework and Limitations

1966 UN Outer Space Treaty:

  • During the Cold War era, the US and USSR were vying for supremacy in various domains.
  • The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs established the Outer Space Treaty in 1966.
  • The treaty aimed to regulate space exploration and prevent territorial claims on celestial bodies.

Prohibition of National Appropriation:

  • Article II of the treaty clearly states that celestial bodies, including the Moon, cannot be claimed as sovereign territory by any nation.
  • National appropriation through occupation, use, or any other means is prohibited.

Cooperative Exploration Emphasized:

The treaty promotes collaboration among countries in their space exploration endeavors.
It underscores the principle that space exploration should be a shared global effort.

Flag Planting vs. Legal Consequences:

  • Although a nation can plant a flag on the Moon, it holds no legal implications.
  • Alexander Soucek from the European Space Agency emphasizes that flag placement doesn't confer ownership rights.

Absence of Naming Provisions:

  • The treaty does not address the issue of naming specific sites on the Moon.
  • Naming locations on the Moon is not explicitly regulated by the treaty's provisions.
3. Lunar Landing Site Naming: Roles of the International Astronomical Union (IAU)

International Astronomical Union (IAU) and Naming Rules:

  • The International Astronomical Union (IAU) oversees nomenclature for celestial bodies and their features.
  • India is one of the 92 member nations of the IAU.
  • Established in 1919, the IAU plays a pivotal role in naming planetary and satellite features.

Informal and Formal Naming Practices:

  • Scientist Paul D. Spudis, formerly associated with the Lunar and Planetary Institute in the US, highlighted the naming process.
  • Earlier, limited information about the Moon's far side was available due to its synchronous rotation with Earth.
  • American and Soviet spacecraft brought high-quality images, enabling the naming of major far-side craters after scientists and engineers from these nations.
IAU Approval and Far-Side Features:
  • Craters on the Moon's far side received names of notable scientists and engineers.
  • These names were submitted to the IAU for official approval and inclusion in the lunar nomenclature.

Apollo Mission Practices:

  • During the Apollo missions, landmarks were informally named to facilitate communication.
  • Small craters and mountains near landing sites received informal names, while official names like "Hadley Rille" were also used.
  • Many informal names from the Apollo era were later granted official status by the IAU.

4. IAU's Procedure for Naming Planetary Objects: 

IAU's Role in Naming Planetary Objects:

  • The International Astronomical Union (IAU) guides the process of naming celestial features.
  • Decisions and recommendations by the IAU aren't legally binding but establish conventions for astronomical understanding.

Naming Process Overview:

IAU's Working Groups manage the naming process. The procedure includes several stages for proposing and reviewing names:

Initial Naming Themes:

When surface images of a planet or satellite become available, themes for naming features are chosen.
Members of the relevant IAU task group suggest names for essential features.

Progressive Naming:

As higher-resolution images and maps emerge, investigators responsible for specific surfaces suggest names for additional features.

Public Suggestions:

Individuals can propose names for consideration by a Task Group. However, name acceptance isn't guaranteed.

Task Group and Working Group Review:

Names endorsed by the task group are presented to the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN).

Approval and Gazetteer Entry:

Following successful review and voting by WGPSN members, names become official IAU nomenclature.
Approved names are listed in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature and on the IAU's website.

Objections and Resolution:

Any objections to approved names can be raised by contacting the IAU General-Secretary within three months of the name's website placement.
Illustrative Example: Chang'e 5 Mission:
  • In December 2020, China's Chang'e 5 mission landed on the Moon, naming its landing site "Statio Tianchuan."
  • "Statio" is Latin for a post or station, also used in NASA's Apollo 11 site name "Statio Tranquillitatis."
  • "Tianchuan" originates from a Chinese constellation name, translating to "ship sailing in the Milky Way."
  • IAU approved the name in May 2021.

5. Naming Norms for Space Objects: IAU's Guidelines

IAU's Naming Recommendations:

  • The International Astronomical Union (IAU) provides guidelines for naming space objects.
  • For planetary objects, names should be "simple, clear, and unambiguous," avoiding duplication.

Prohibited Significances:

  • Names with political, military, or religious connotations are not allowed.
  • Except for pre-19th-century political figures, names with such significance are barred.
Commemoration and Eligibility:
  • Commemorating individuals on celestial bodies isn't the primary goal but can be considered under special circumstances.
  • Deceased individuals must have been so for at least three years before their nomination can be proposed.

Unpredictable Naming Patterns:

  • Notably, the naming of specific craters doesn't follow a predictable pattern.
  • Neither scientific prominence nor contribution guarantees the selection of a crater for naming.
  • Eminent figures like Galileo and Newton have insignificant features named after them.

Greco-Roman Mythology Influence:

  • In the past, satellites of Jupiter and Saturn were named after Greco-Roman mythological figures.
  • The IAU expanded the naming scope to include descendants of Zeus/Jupiter and allowed names of giants and monsters from other mythologies.
For Prelims: Shiv Shakti, 1966 UN Outer Space Treaty, International Astronomical Union (IAU), Apollo missions, and Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN).
For Mains: 1. India has achieved remarkable successes in unmanned space missions including the Chandrayaan and Mars Orbiter Mission, but has not ventured into manned space missions, both in terms of technology and logistics. Explain critically (UPSC GS3, 2017)
2. Discuss India’s achievements in the field of Space Science and Technology. How the application of this technology has helped India in its socio-economic development? (UPSC GS3, 2016)
Source: The Indian Express

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