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How Andy Warhol Ended up in a Crater on Mercury

Andy Warhol looked for fame any place he could find it, so news that a crater on the surface of the planet Mercury has been named in his honor comes as no surprise. Warhol joined 22 other famous dead artists, musicians, and writers in that distinction recently, according to a NASA press release last month. It may seem like one small step for Warhol, but it actually might be one giant leap for late 20th century art’s acceptance on a universal level.

I confess that I didn’t know that the International Astronomical Union (IAU) had an “established naming theme” for craters on Mercury that called for honoring only creative types, but now that I know, I think it’s the coolest non-Stephen Colbert-related NASA has ever done. It’s truly an eclectic and international bunch of names in this latest group. Along with Warhol, artists Robert Henri, Rene Magritte (who already has an asteroid named after him), and Theodore “Dr.” Seuss Geisel gained galactic glory.

Less familiar names, at least to Western ears, join them such as Maija Grotell (a 20th century ceramist whose experiments in glaze technology earned her the title of "mother of American ceramics"), Vincent Akwete Kofi (a 20th century Ghanaian sculptor), Arthur Lismer (a 20th century Canadian painter who belonged to the Group of Seven, Canada’s first major national art movement), and. Ulrica Fredrica Pasch (a groundbreaking 18th century female Swedish painter and miniaturist). The honorees really reflect the “international” in the IAU’s name. Personally, I feel a little ashamed that I had to go to Mercury to even hear of someone such as Ulrica Pasch, but that’s the state of most art history when it comes to women artists. (The language barrier between English and the Scandinavian world doesn’t help, either.)

Mercury the planet is named after Mercury the Roman god who served as the divine messenger. Mercury the planet is also absolutely covered in craters. MESSENGER (which stands for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging), the NASA probe launched in August 2004 to study Mercury until its power runs out around March 2013, has taken almost 100,000 images (including the one shown above). With these new pictures, the race is on to claim previously unseen geographic features and bestow a favorite famous or sadly neglected artist’s name to them. While some of the artists may have made a greater impact here on Earth than others, it doesn’t mean that they’re less deserving for their role as a divine messenger of art. Each of them deserves their Warholian 15 minutes of fame, even if they have to go to another planet to find them.

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