Thursday, October 4, 2012

Avoiding Misnomers

  The driftlike objects that I have named "zastrugi" illustrate the problem that we can have in naming something new to our experience. They may look like something we have seen before but occur elsewhere. The problem is one of identity. Are the objects the same? For biologists the problem is quite complicated and their nomenclature system is the solution that they have come up with. The objects most closely related are included in the same species. They are the same kind of objects. Other objects with roughly similar properties are grouped together as a genus. More distantly related objects form families and orders. To properly name something we need a classification system and a set of rules for making the identifications. Sometimes a genus takes the name of one of its members as in the case of vulpes vulpes, the red fox or lynx lynx, the European lynx. I use the name "zastruga" for the objects found on Mars in this broader sense since the Russians say it can refer to sand and gravel spurs in addition to shaped snow drifts. So if we wish we can use the name for a group of objects that is zastruga-like. Often we use the indefinite article to indicate membership is a class. For example we could say, "Felix is a cat," and, "Wolf is a dog."
  In this context what can be said about the "alluvial fan"? The word "fan" indicates a diverging deposit of some sort. The adjective "alluvial" indicates the active agent was water. If wind was the active agent we might say that it is an "aeolian fan". In the case of "talus cone" there is no active agent except gravity. In each case there is a slope that the particles of the deposit distribute themselves over in a manner similar to the way balls move down Galton's board. I used "cascade" as the general term for the field that particles travel over.
  As we explore Mars and the other planets it is likely we will encounter things outside our normal experience the scientists need to come up with a general procedure or set of guidelines or precedents to follow in coming up with new names and in identifying what is what. A classification system may prove to be the best approach to the problem.

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