How are Features on Asteroids named?

How are Features on Asteroids named?

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Learning Objective:

Learn the criteria for naming elements found on the surface of asteroids.


The images captured by exploration missions have facilitated a detailed mapping of the surface of asteroids. For better identification of features, criteria pertaining to history, mythology, culture, and individuals are utilized for naming purposes.


Planetary nomenclature is utilized to distinctively label a feature on the surface of a celestial body, whether it be a planet, satellite, or minor body like an asteroid. This system allows for easy location, description, and discussion of these features.

The advancement of space exploration and the higher resolution imagery captured by exploration mission equipment have necessitated the establishment of more systematic criteria for a streamlined identification of these features.

When we examine images of an asteroid, we can observe a variety of distinct features present on its surface. The most prominent of these features are the impact craters. Additionally, peaks, ridges, grooves, trenches, rocks, and boulders contribute to the unique landscape of the asteroid.

The naming process for an asteroid’s features is systematic, following specific criteria based on the type of feature observed. These names are then connected to the name of the asteroid itself, incorporating elements of mythology, the circumstances of its discovery, as well as the individuals and locations involved in its historical study and exploration.

The Executive Committee Working Group of Small Bodies Nomenclature (WG-SBN), linked to the International Astronomical Union, is responsible for the naming and designation of small bodies in the solar system, with the exception of satellites of large planets. The IAU oversees multiple working groups responsible for these assignments, organized by specific areas of focus. For instance, other planetary systems and stellar objects have their own dedicated working groups for handling these designations.

Features of some known asteroids

433 Eros – Discovered in 1898, this asteroid was named after the Greek god of love. Eros was among the first asteroids to be visited by a spacecraft, which successfully orbited and softly landed on the asteroid in 2001. The NEAR-Shoemaker mission provided detailed images that enabled the naming of specific features on Eros. 

Different regions of the asteroid, each with unique geological characteristics, were named after its co-discoverers. Ridges on the asteroid, known as Dorsa, were named after researchers who studied them. In keeping with the asteroid’s namesake, characters from Greek mythology, craters on Eros were named after famous lovers from literature and history.

Map of Eros surface with its named features (JPL / Grant L. Hutchison / Solar Views)

1 Ceres – The first asteroid discovered was named after the Greek deity of agriculture. In 2015, the Dawn probe conducted an exploration of Ceres, capturing images of various surface features. Two specific themes were utilized in naming the features of Ceres: agricultural deities for impact craters and agricultural festivals for other notable landmarks.

Map of Ceres with its features (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/Dawn)

101955 Bennu – The asteroid’s name pays homage to an ancient Egyptian mythological bird symbolizing the Sun, creation, and rebirth. As part of the OSIRIS-REx mission, samples were collected and detailed features were photographed, with names inspired by bird species and mythological figures.

Asteroid Bennu named features (NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

65803 Didymos/Dimorphos – the main body of this asteroid system was named Didymos (twins in Greek) after its binary nature was detected in 2003. The historic Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission was influential in naming the second object and also in the features of these two bodies. The moon of Didymos was named Dimorphos (“two forms” in Greek) in reference to its new orbit following the probe’s collision in 2022. Their features were named after percussion instruments from different cultures, a reference to the probe hitting the surface of Dimorphos.

Designations for various regions on the surface of the Didymos and Dimorphos asteroid system as identified by the USGS Astrogeology Science Center.

Learn more about this subject by visiting these websites:  

LEARN – How Are Asteroids Named?

Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature – Asteroids

IAU: WG Small Bodies Nomenclature (WGSBN)