Ever fancied naming a star – or even better a planet? If you are a SF author, that’s easy thing. (And actually there are hundreds of fictional planets out there. Some of them sport pretty names – Arrakis, Tatooine, Vulcan or Fleed). But now everybody has this possibility, even without writing a novel.
How? Keep on reading.
Today (July, 9, 2014) the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which handles the whole planetary nomenclature, together with Zooniverse, has – after a lot of thinking, I have to admit – officially launched the invitation for the public to submit, and in a few months also vote on names of newly discovered planets.
As the press release on IAU website declares:
For the first time, in response to the public’s increased interest in being part of discoveries in astronomy, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) is organizing a worldwide contest to give popular names to selected exoplanets along with their host stars. The proposed names will be submitted by astronomy clubs and non-profit organisations interested in astronomy, and votes will be cast by the public from across the world through the web platform NameExoWorlds. This platform is under development by the IAU in association with Zooniverse. The intention is that millions of people worldwide will be able to take part in the vote. Once the votes are counted, the winning names will be officially sanctioned by the IAU, allowing them to be used freely in parallel with the existing scientific nomenclature, with due credit to the clubs or organizations that proposed them.
Going on the mentioned NameExoWorlds website, you can register as an organisation or an individual, and follow the instructions. The whole process is expected to be completed in August 2015, with the results announced during a public ceremony, in occasion of the IAU XXIX General Assembly (Honolulu, USA).
In the meantime, you can make up your mind: if naming a baby is difficult, just think of a planet! Possible monikers have to be 16 characters or less in length, preferably one word, not too similar to an existing astronomical name (you can check what already exists here). Don’t use your cat’s name or anything vaguely political or religious. And leave alone your favourite auntie!
The available targets are included in a list of 305 exoplanets discovered prior to 31 December 2008, some of them quite famous like Fomalhaut b. Called “zombie planet” – its existence has been announced, later denied, then finally confirmed in 2012, making it a comeback from the “academic dead” – this huge planet has 3 times Jupiter’s mass and it’s relatively close to us (25 LY). It’s also special in the sense that it has an unusual orbit that put it into collision route with the smaller planets supposed to be in the star’s huge debris ring. And, yes, its photo (now famous) was the first ever direct image of a planet orbiting another star. Maybe I will pick this one for my own naming exercise, after all…
I forgot to say it: most of the planets are visible, either to the naked eye or through binoculars. So, photos or not, you can start looking for them in the summer sky and get inspired!