June 08, 2023

NASA’s Perseverance and Curiosity rovers are exploring new terrain on Mars every day, adding thousands of names to the Red Planet over the last few years. Set in the Perseverance rover operations area at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, this edition of the Mars Report features geologist Tina Seeger of Caltech explaining the process for naming Mars rocks, drill targets, and other locations as the teams explore.

This video discusses how official and unofficial names are decided by scientists who need a common language to reference while navigating Mars. For the Curiosity and Perseverance missions, scientists have been systematically dividing their maps into quadrants and giving each quadrant a theme from which to draw names, such as national parks around the world.

For more information on the naming process, visit mars.nasa.gov/news/9413/.

For more information on NASA's Mars missions, visit mars.nasa.gov.


Tina Seeger: For more than two years, the Perseverance rover team has added over 850 names for Martian rocks, drill targets, and other locations. And we're going to need a lot more. But where do these names come from? Let's find out the process.

Marina Jurica: Here in the operations area for the Perseverance rover, the team is driving into new Martian terrain every day, just like our other rover, Curiosity.

I'm joined today with Tina Seeger who's going to tell us a little bit about her role on the rover teams and why it's important.

Tina Seeger: Well, I'm a geologist who studies rocks on Mars.

Tina Seeger: So just like on Earth, geologists on Mars rely on familiar names on a map to understand the landscape and communicate with each other about the rocks seen by the rovers. Curiosity and Perseverance are located in different craters more than 2,000 miles from each other and naming rocks in those craters after places on Earth.

Tina Seeger: Curiosity just drilled Ubajara named after a national park in Brazil. And Perseverance is studying Belva Crater. Belva is a town in West Virginia named after Belva Ann Lockwood, who was one of the first women to run for president.

Marina Jurica: So who decides the names on Mars?

Tina Seeger: Well, official names get assigned by the International Astronomical Union, which has strict guidelines for features across the whole solar system. Small craters on Mars must be named after small towns like Belva or like Jezero, where Perseverance is located, which means lake in many Slavic languages. Smaller features like rocks, cliffs, meteorites – those get nicknames chosen by the rover teams that are not official, but they do stick.

Marina Jurica: How do you come up with the names for these smaller features like rocks?

Tina Seeger: Well, in the ’90s, they came up with names on the fly. And that’s why you got silly names like “Barnacle Bill,” “Indiana Jones.” But now we compile a list of names ahead of time based on different themes. We draw a grid on the map where each square is a different quadrant that represents a different theme. Curiosity has used names from South America, Scotland; Perseverance uses names from national parks around the world.

Marina Jurica: How were these names decided?

Tina Seeger: Names can come from anywhere in your imagination. Going back to Pathfinder, a rock looked like the face of Yogi Bear and got the name “Yogi Rock.” This meteorite is “Heat Shield Rock,” which sits near debris from Opportunity's heat shield. Drilled rock samples that Perseverance has dropped for collection, also have names like “Bearwallow,” which is named after a hiking trail in Shenandoah National Park. One of my favorite Curiosity targets is called “Bonanza King,” which is named after the Bonanza King Rock formation near Death Valley. Here we see an area that resembles a strip of bacon when viewed from space. So we jokingly called it the “Bacon Strip.” Since arriving at the site with Perseverance, we had to give it a name that fit the Shenandoah theme. So we chose “Hogwallow Flats.”

Marina Jurica: If you could come up with a name for a rock, what would it be?

Tina Seeger: I spent seven summers as the Night Skies ranger at Mount Rainier National Park, so I'd probably pick something named after Mount Rainier or a place that's special to me inside the park. Luckily, I got to map the Mount Rainier quadrant in Jezero Crater. So if we drive through it, that dream might become a reality.

Marina Jurica: To get the latest updates on Curiosity and Perseverance, follow @NASAJPL and @NASAMars on social media. Or take a deeper dive at mars.nasa.gov.


Video production, rover engineering camera images, Pathfinder mission images: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Perseverance rover’s WATSON, Curiosity rover’s Mastcam, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s CTX images: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS; Perseverance rover Mastcam-Z images: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS; Mars maps: USGS Astrogeology Science Center, NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona, and ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO); Ubajara National Park: R. Ourico (public domain); West Virginia: K. Thomas (public domain); Belva Lockwood: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution (CC0); Victoria Crater: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Cornell/Ohio State University; NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona; NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU; Spirit and Opportunity images: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell; Shenandoah and Death Valley National Parks: NPS/N. Lewis and NPS (public domain); Death Valley aerial view: NASA; California Map: USGS George I Smith; personal images courtesy of T. Seeger

You Might Also Like