Perseverance Place Names

Watching this Caltech video about the Perseverance mission, I was struck by some of the place names. They weren't English or Latin.

They are Navajo.

Aaron Yazzie, Diné, is a mechanical engineer on the Perseverance team. He appeared in NOVA's excellent "Looking for Life on Mars" episode. He contributed several of the names.

Landscape features don't need our names in order to have significance. Many a mountain has existed for millennia before we've suddenly appeared and stuck a label on it. If a feature is lucky enough to contain nothing we want, like coal or silver, then we'll be no more than a fleeting presence: little ants that skitter across its surface, make noises about having "conquered" it, and disappear.

Mt. Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, USA
The Sneffels range dates to the Paleogene. It's maybe 100 times older than the human species.
(I'm not sure when it was first revealed by weathering.)

Still, it's really useful to be able to name things. Richard Feynman's story about bird names vs. bird behaviors obscures this point. If all you know about a thing is its name, then, contrary to Feynman, you do know one really useful thing about it. The name is a key by which to find out more. You can use it to search a dictionary, an encyclopedia, the internet, journals, etc., and to find out what else has been learned about the thing.

The Navajo place names used by the Mars 2020 mission are excellent: mysterious (to those of us who don't understand Na-dené languages), intriguing, inspiring curiosity.

Er, Curiosity.