Mars images to go on social media feeds in Latin

melas chasma Life on Mars: Materia cana rerum stratarum in Melani Chasmate - or light-toned stratified materials in Melas Chasma (the image has been coloured)

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Pictures of the surface of Mars, taken from Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), are to be captioned in Latin on social media outlets as part of an outreach project.

The Latin captions will be published from 28 August on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook.

The photography project is known as HiRise (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) and has run since 2006.

The Latin translations are being done by 18 volunteers coordinated in the UK.

"We were inspired by the Pope's Latin feed," HiRise spokesman Ari Espinoza from the University of Arizona told the BBC.

The then Pope Benedict XVI sent his first tweet in the ancient language at the beginning of the year and also used Latin in his resignation speech.

"Some of the science greats - [Johannes] Kepler, [Isaac] Newton wrote in Latin - this is a tie to the past but we're looking at the future," Mr Espinoza added.

Start Quote

One of the fascinating things for me has been discovering how many parts of Mars have been named in Latin”

End Quote Dr Lorna Robinson The Iris Project

Captions are already provided in 10 languages as well as English, including Hebrew, Icelandic and Russian.

While some modern scientific terms had challenged the Latin translators, more mundane phrases had also faced scrutiny, said Dr Lorna Robinson, director of the Iris Project, a UK-based Latin language outreach initiative, which is coordinating the team.

"There has been debate over whether to keep the Latin more simple or make it as close to classical Latin as possible," she said.

"We reached a compromise - wanted to keep it clear and accessible to outsiders without being wrong."

The word "possible" had divided opinion among the language experts because it had not been used in the same way as it was today, Dr Robinson said.

Mars Mass wasting in Valles Marineris (Lapsus massarum in Valle Marineris)

"We went for 'possibilis' - which means 'possible' but in terms of classical Latin it wasn't really used in the way we use it," she said.

The phrase under scrutiny was a structure described as "with possible ice" which would not have been a format familiar to traditional speakers, Dr Robinson added.

"One of the fascinating things for me has been discovering how many parts of Mars have been named in Latin," she said.

"It will be interesting for people to see these connections. Terra [is Latin for] terrain, for example - most people will be able to work that out."

The HiRise camera was designed for continuous use until the fuel on the MRO runs out in 2023, and sends back over 12 images each day, said Mr Espinoza.

"So far we have 30,000 images. Beautiful dunes, defrosting carbon dioxide ice, gulleys and impact craters - it's Mars," he said.

"The [translation] group we have created has done a lot of talking. You just don't learn about impact craters or carbon dioxide ice in Latin at school."

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