Locations Named on Asteroid Ryugu

Asteroid Ryugu photographed by Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft. (Credit: JAXA)

TOKYO (JAXA PR) — Place names for locations on the surface of Ryugu were discussed by Division F (Planetary Systems and Bioastronomy) of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (hereafter IAU WG) and approved in December 2018. We will introduce the place names in this article and the background to their selection.

As the appearance of Ryugu gradually became clear during the approach phase in June 2018, we used nicknames amongst the Hayabsua2 Project team to distinguish regions of the terrain. (For example, the crater now named “Urashima” was referred to as the Death Star crater in Star Wars!) However, in order to introduce Ryugu to the world, it is necessary to have names that are intentionally recognized rather than nicknames, which can be referred to in scientific papers and other articles. Therefore, the discussion regarding naming the Ryugu surface topology began within the team.

To name a place on a celestial body in the Solar System, you must first decide on a theme. For example, the theme for places on Venus is the “names of goddesses”. During discussions between the domestic and overseas project members, suggestions such as “names of castles around the world”, “word for ‘dragon’ in different languages” and the “names of deep-sea creatures” were proposed for the place name theme on Ryugu. After an intense debate, the theme was selected to be “names that appear in stories for children” and a theme proposal was put to the IAU WG. The proposal was accepted on September 25, after which the discussion moved to selecting the topographical features to be named and the choice of name.

Names cannot be attributed to any location. Instead, there are restrictions on the places that can be assigned an official name involving considerations such as scientific importance or size on the celestial body. With this in mind, volunteers from the project members as well as planetary geology experts (hereinafter referred to as the Place Name Core Members ※1) discussed the place selection and completed the application forms for naming based on the exploration data. On October 12, we proposed 13 place names to the IAU WG. After additional discussion with the WG, 9 were accepted as proposed by the team and the remaining 4 names were approved after an amendment suggested by the IAU.

The surface of celestial bodies has a range of different topologies. We applied to give names to four different topology types on the Ryugu surface. The first type is “dorsum” which originates from the Latin for peak or ridge. The second type is “crater” which are familiar structures on the Moon and asteroids. Then “fossa” meaning grooves or trenches and finally the Latin word “saxum” for the rocks and boulders that are a main characteristic of the Ryugu terrain. Saxum is actually a new classification of terrain type that we applied to introduce due to the nature of Ryugu.

Numerous boulders are distributed on the surface of Ryugu. Regardless of where you look, there are rocks, rocks and more rocks. This is a major characteristic of Ryugu and continues to make plans for the touchdown operation of the spacecraft difficult. Additionally, spectroscopic observations revealed that the giant boulder (Otohime saxum) at the south pole has not only a substantial size, but also a distinct visible light spectrum that reveals materials and surface conditions that are different from the surrounding areas. Since this boulder is the most important topographical feature for understanding the formation history of Ryugu, the Project strongly hoped to name it. However, there was no precedent for boulder nomenclature and even the name type did not exist (during the exploration of the first Hayabusa mission, naming the huge boulder protruding from asteroid Itokawa was not allowed). We therefore proposed the type name for boulders at the same time as applying for the place names. Since terrain type names are usually Latin, we proposed “saxum” (meaning rocks and stones in Latin) as the type name for boulders. The IAU accepted this nomenclature for boulders with a few conditions (such as the boulder must be 1% or more of the diameter of the celestial body) and the type name that we suggested was adopted (!). This is how the new terrain type “saxum” was born.

Figure 1: Map of Ryugu showing the place names. Trinitas and Alice’s Wonderland are nicknames of the MINERVA-II1 and MASCOT landing sites, respectively, and not place names recognized by the IAU. (Image credit:JAXA ※2)

Figure 1 shows a map of Ryugu with the place names labelled. Additionally, Figure 2 shows the location of the places on images of Ryugu taken from four different directions. In these figures, the north pole of Ryugu is at the image top. Please keep in mind that the north pole of Ryugu is in the same direction as the south pole on Earth, as Ryugu rotates in the opposite direction. Table 1 shows a list of the place names.

Figure 2: The location of place names on Ryugu. Trinitas and Alice’s Wonderland are nicknames of the MINERVA-II1 and MASCOT landing sites, respectively, and not place names recognized by the IAU. (Image credit:JAXA ※2)

Table 1: List of names places on the surface of Ryugu

NameTypeTerrain descriptionOriginal storyCountry
Origin of name
RyujinDorsumEquatorial ridgeUrashima TaroJapan
Dragon god who is Princess Otohime’s father
UrashimaCraterBiggest crater on RyuguUrashima TaroJapan
Fisherman who rescued the turtle
CendrillonCraterOne of the biggest craters outside the equatorial ridgeCinderellaFrance
The French name for Cinderella (Note 1)
KolobokCraterTypical crater on the equatorial ridgeKolobokRussia
A small round bread that ran away from home (Note 2)
BraboCraterTypical crater on the equatorial ridgeBrabo and the giantNetherlands
The brave young man who defeated a giant (Note 3)
KintarouCrater5th largest crater on RyuguKintarouJapan
The child with super strength who grew up on Mt Ashigara
MomotarouCrater4th largest crater on RyuguMomotarouJapan
The boy born from a peach who fought against an ogre
KibidangoCrater6th largest crater on RyuguMomotarouJapan
Food that Momotarou gave his friends
TokoyoFossaRyugu’s largest groove-shaped depressionUrashima TaroJapan
Tokoyo, a faraway land across the sea, the land of eternal life
HoraiFossaRyugu’s 2nd largest groove-shaped depressionUrashima TaroJapan
Horai, the utopia in the sea
CatafoSaxumBoulder that denotes the prime meridian on RyuguCajun FolktalesAmerica
Boy who cleverly marked a route to avoid losing his way. (Note 4)
OtohimeSaxumRyugu’s biggest boulderUrashima TaroJapan
The princess who lived in Ryugu castle and entertained Urashima and who gave him the treasure box (tamatebako).
EjimaSaxumOne of the boulders that holds the key to Ryugu’s formation historyUrashima TaroJapan
Where Urashima rescued the turtle and left for Ryugu Palace.
  • (Note 1) While “Cinderella” was proposed, the WG modified the name to the original French.
    (Note 2) “Peter Pan” was proposed but changed by the WG due to copyright issues.
    (Note 3) “Sleeping Beauty” was proposed but it was suggested that the character number was too long, so “Brabo” was proposed and accepted.
    (Note 4) “Oz” was proposed but this is used for Charon (moon of Pluto) so was changed by the WG.

As it is difficult to get a feel for how the place names were chosen from just a list, we will introduce the story behind the main choices below.

The asteroid name “Ryugu” comes from the Japanese fairy tale of Taro Urashima. In the story, Urashima is a fisherman who rescues a sea turtle from the cruelty of a group of children. The turtle takes Urashima to the underwater palace of Ryugo-jo (Dragon Palace), where he meets the princess, Otohime. After 3 years, Urashima wishes to return home and is given a treasure box (tamatebako) by Otohime with instructions never to open it. But when Urashima returns to the surface, he discovers everything he knew has changed as 300 years has actually past. In confusion, Urashima opens the treasure box and is engulfed in white fog. When it clears, he has become an old man, as the box contained his age.

With the name of the asteroid being Ryugu, there was a strong desire from the Project to use other names that appear in Urashima’s story for major asteroid topography. However, place names cannot be common nouns so words such as “sea bream”, “flounder” and “turtle” do not work and we were limited to names such as Taro Urashima, Otohime etc.

Therefore, “Urashima” was chosen for the biggest crater on Ryugu and “Otohime” for the largest boulder near the south pole. Both of these are very important features for deciphering the formation history of Ryugu. However, Otohime had already been used! Venus (whose place theme uses the names of goddesses) had already a location named Otohime Tholus. Otohime was therefore initially refused by the IAU when it was proposed. But Otohime is an extremely important person in the story of Taro Urashima and how can we collect the tamatebako if Otohime is not on Ryugu?! (That was a joke, but we did want to use such a relevant name.) Since the name was important to the Project, the place name core members refined the proposal to the IAU, explaining why Otohime should be one of the main topological features on Ryugu and this was accepted.

A defining feature of Ryugu is that the shape is similar to a spinning top or abacus bead. This shape is the combination of two cones which appear almost circular when seen from the north pole. The ridge where they join was named “Ryujin”, after the ruler of the Dragon Palace who is the father of princess Otohime. This name came from the Place Name Core Members who felt the ridge resembled a dragon coiling around the asteroid or an ouroboros (the image of the serpent or dragon that swallows its own tail). (There was actually a similar illustration in the “Imagining Ryugu” art contest!)

On either side of Otohime saxum there are large grooves extending in the equatorial direction. In the story of Taro Urashima, Otohime lives in this mysterious place at the bottom of the ocean which is sometimes depicted as a different world in the various retellings of the tale. This world is often called “Horai”, “Tokoyo” or “Niraikanai”. The grooves adjacent to Otohime saxum were therefore named Horai fossa and Tokoyo fossa.

There is a reasonably big boulder to the southeast of the Urashima crater. According to one version of the tale, the place where Taro Urashima helped the turtle and left to travel to Ryugu-jo is the place “Ejima”, which gave the boulder its name Ejima saxum.

There are also large craters on both sides of Urashima crater. In particular, there are two craters stuck together along the north-south direction to the west. This state reminded us of the kibidango (Japanese dumplings) in another Japanese fairy tale called Momotaro. The northern crater of the pair was therefore named “Momotaro crater” and the southern crater became “Kibidango crater”. To the east of the Urashima crater, there is a crater with big black boulder inside. This reminded us of the Japanese tale of Kintaro, a boy with super strength who carried a broad-axe, and so was named “Kintaro crater”.

Ryugu also has topological names derived from children’s stories from outside Japan. For example, while you might not immediately recognize the name of the Cendrillion crater, the name is from the original French name for the familiar fairy tale, “Cinderella”. The name of the Brabo crater is derived from the name of the hero of a Netherlands tale, which was proposed by the overseas project members. The Kolobok crater and Catafo saxum were both names proposed by the IAU WG. They are taken from Russian and Cajun (famous for Cajun cuisine in the USA) folktales.

These are the place names formally recognized by the IAU WG. In addition, there are two nicknames shown in Figures 1 and 2; Trinitas (the MINERVA-II1 landing site and named for the goddess Minerva’s birth place) and Alice’s Wonderland (the MASCOT landing site). These were places named by the project to identify the points where MINERVA-II1 and MASCOT landed, but are not official names recognized by the IAU.

We are planning to review and propose place names from time to time as we continue to observe and research asteroid Ryugu. What kind of story should appear on Ryugu next?

  • ※1. Place name core members (in no particular order): Rina Noguchi, Yuri Shimaki, Makoto Yoshikawa, Yuichi Tsuda (JAXA), Seiichio Watanabe (Nagoya University), Hideaki Miyamoto, Seiji Sugita (University of Tokyo), Goro Komatsu (Università d’Annunzio), Yoshiaki Ishihara (National Institute for Environmental Studies), Sho Sasaki (Osaka University), Naru Hirata, Chikatoshi Honda, Hirohide Demura (University of Aizu), Masatoshi Hirabayashi (Auburn University).
  • ※2. The images of Ryugu are from the ONC team (JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST).

  • Merisea

    “Tokoyo, a faraway land across the sea, the land of eternal life.” Snrk.