Friday, July 8, 2011

The Tarpeian Rock

Wicked Tarpeia thought to betray Rome for filthy lucre... but the very Sabines attacking the City thought this treachery unsupportable, and threw her to her death down a handy cliff instead: hence its later name of the Tarpeian Rock, and its status as the place of ignominious execution par excellence for all traitors.  

Now Tarpeia was a Roman maiden, some even referring to her a Vestal virgin; and it has been decided that sundry features on the asteroid 4 Vesta – about for the first time to be visited by a spaceprobe, America's Dawn mission – shall, aptly enough, be named after Vestals and notable Roman women (see the entry for Vesta amongst those for the naming of features on sundry worlds); and Vesta is marked with a great impact feature at its south pole, complete with towering central peak; so, ought this not be named the Tarpeian Rock, Saxum Tarpeium?

Behold Vesta from 100,000 km away; the great peak at the south pole, marking the site of the giant impact from which it rebounded, is higher than Everest.  (Image obtained 1st July 2011.)

Less than a billion years ago, Vesta, the second-largest of the asteroids (perhaps worthy to be accounted a dwarf planet), about 500 km across, was struck a mighty hammer-blow by an impacting asteroid perhaps 50 km across, which blasted great volumes of rock across its surface and out into space.  Given how infamous Tarpeia dealt ancient Roman a swingeing blow by her attempted betrayal, it seems to me quite apt to name this striking feature of the Vestian surface after her notorious act.


Perhaps the surrounding area constituting the "floor" of the impact basin could be termed the Campus Sceleratus – after that accursed field in which Vestals who broke their vows were buried alive?

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