Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Cairns "News"... coming to another medium-sized town's newspaper soon

I have a little sympathy for newspaper editors and their need to try to come up with something eye-catching for the front page. Slow news days must be a pain in the proverbial, and result in non-stories getting blown out of proportion.

I wonder if Monday's Cairns Post was the result of a really slow news day until a late breaking story squeezed in. At the bottom we had a story about a serious car accident that resulted in a pedestrian losing a leg, and this was hailed in large letters - DRINK DRIVE HORROR. If it bleeds, it leads. A bit sensationalist, but at least it was news.

Above however was a non-story, IT'S OFFICIAL: WE ARE STILL OUT OF THIS WORLD, which breathlessly announced that the Cairns crater on Mars, so named in 1976, will (* drumroll *) continue to be named the Cairns crater.
CAIRNS’ place in space is safe, no matter how large the city becomes.

The city has a 8.6km wide crater on Mars named after it, an honour NASA reserves for Earthly cities with fewer than 100,000 people.

The honour was bestowed upon Cairns in 1976, when the city’s population was 90,000.
Honour? No, we were just another town whose name got used in a generic nomenclature. We weren't specially selected. Mars may not be that big as far as planets go, but it has a huge number of craters needing names for maps.
With the city’s population now about 150,000 people, and estimated to hit 400,000 by 2050, the town could be in danger of losing its crater.
Really? This front page news is years too late! Why didn't they let us know about this threat when we reached 100,000? Maybe they did and I just didn't notice.

So, does the Cairns Post really think that NASA redraws its maps of Mars with population updates, changing crater names every time a new population estimate gets released anywhere in the world? The story continues, and explains that it isn't a story at all.
But Jennifer Blue, from NASA’s Astrogeology Science Centre said that the Cairns crater would forever keep its name.

“The theme of small-town names was chosen because it supplies an almost endless bank of names for the manycraters on Mars,’’ she said.

“The requirement is that the town’s population must be less than 100,000 at the time the name is proposed and approved. There’s no danger that the name would be rescinded because Cairns’ population is now greater than 100,000.

“One of the goals of planetary nomenclature is to keep the system stable.”
I imagine Jennifer Blue was consulted by phone and spent much of the time face-palming and wondering why she had to talk to such idiots as part of her job. Let's give Daniel Bateman the benefit of the doubt, and assume he wasn't the idiot in question. He probably just dropped Cairns's name into a generic template that does the rounds from one medium-sized town's newspaper to another. Come to think of it, that may not be much benefit to give.

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