The Story Behind The Crater On Planet Mercury Named After Gibran Khalil Gibran

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After crossing the borders of Lebanon and rising to fame worldwide, the name of Gibran Khalil Gibran reached space, reigning on a crater on the closest planet to the Sun in the Solar System: Mercury.

The naming of the crater after the great Lebanese poet and philosopher was not random. It was the deed of a Lebanese astrophysicist whom Gibran had deeply influenced long after his death.

Her name is Dr. Nelly Mouawad, one of the first Lebanese female astrophysicists worldwide, and currently the only female university professor in the field of astrophysics in Lebanon.

She made it happen, proposing to name the crater on Mercury after Gibran Khalil Gibran while working on the NASA mission MESSENGER.

NASA/Johns Hopkins University

Dr. Nelly Mouawad’s work on the NASA mission MESSENGER focused on the exosphere of Mercury, which consists of the atoms and molecules circulating above the surface of the planet, as she explained to The961.

During a mission meeting, she noted that a team was studying craters, and there were some newly discovered ones that needed to be named.

MESSENGER – NASA/Johns Hopkins University

The nomenclature for naming craters on Mercury was the following:

The crater should be named after deceased worldwide famous people who were non-political and non-religious figures, such as artists, philosophers, etc…

Dr. Mouawad decided that, since she was the only Lebanese on the mission, a name of an influential Lebanese personality should be immortalized by taking a place in space.

And who better deserving of that than Gibran Khalil Gibran, whose outstanding works of literature have influenced generations in the world and continue to do so.

True to fact, in addition to being one of the three most-read authors in the world to date, Gibran Khalil Gibran has been already immortalized by the legacy he left behind, as he is all too often quoted for his deep wisdom and high-level consciousness.

JFK’s most famous quote, for instance, was actually taken from Gibran.

So it is that his name was officially approved for that particular crater on Mercury by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

Dr. Mouawad is among the people who were significantly influenced by the iconic Lebanese poet and philosopher, and not just because of his nationality.

Courtesy of Dr. Nelly Mouawad

Like Gibran Khalil Gibran, Dr. Mouawad is an alumnus of Sagesse School in Ashrafieh, and, during her years of education, there was a heavy focus on studying Gibran’s literary works, she told The961.

But that didn’t end there.

While at the University of Maryland, working on her postdoctoral research associate, she found out that there was a professorship named after the Lebanese literary influencer, the “Kahlil Gibran Chair for Peace and Values.”

University of Maryland

The position was occupied back then by Prof. Suheil Bushrui, a distinguished author and prominent scholar in the works of Gibran, and he contributed to heavily influencing her, both scholarly and spiritually.

Hence, one would say that Dr. Mouawad carried Gibran’s values and legacy in her career path, reaching NASA where she partook in two missions:

She was part of the MESSENGER Science Team and the EPOXI mission while on its way to visit comet Hartley 2, a periodic Jupiter family comet.

A public speaker and a recipient of the Chrétien International Grant Research Award (2016) by the American Astronomical Society (AAS), Dr. Nelly Mouawad is a former postdoctoral research associate at the University of Maryland and is currently working as an assistant professor at the Lebanese American University (LAU).

She holds a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Cologne in Germany, a DEA in Astrophysics from the University of Toulouse III in France, and a Master’s Degree in Fundamental Physics from the Lebanese University.

Rotary Club of Beirut Cosmopolitan

As of date, she has contributed to more than 60 publications on Mercury, comets, black holes, and exoplanets. Among those articles, was the discovery paper on the Supermassive Black Hole in our Galaxy that earned the Nobel Prize in physics in 2020.

An outstanding Lebanese herself, Dr. Mouawad has been teaching physics and astronomy at LAU, as well as conducting her research and promoting science in Lebanon since 2011.