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How Would You Like To Help Astronomers Name New Planets and Stars?

An artist’s concept of Earth-like exoplanet ‘Kepler186f’. Image credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

I’ve named a lot of things in my life: kittens, puppies, cars, roads, apps, kids, and body parts just to name a few. But now we are being asked to help name something a bit larger on the galactic scale: Planets and Stars!

The International Astronomical Union (IAU), the group responsible for naming all celestial objects, has found itself in a unique situation: it is currently in the possession of 1,737 confirmed exoplanets and none have names.

Okay, sure, they have scientific designations that are drawn from the exoplanet’s star, what order in their system they were discovered in, if they are part of a binary system, and a multitude of other factors — that’s why we have exoplanets named “Kepler-186 f,” ” upsilon Andromedae d,” and “BD-10 3166 b.”

Wouldn’t it be way cooler to call them “Vulcan,” “Krypton,” or “Alderaan?”

From the IAU’s press release:

The NameExoWorlds contest aims at crowdsourcing the process by which public names will be given to a large sample of well-studied, confirmed exoplanets and their host stars, referred to as exoworlds. The NameExoWorlds vote is conceived as a global, cross-cultural, educational, and above all ambitious and challenging contest, both for the IAU-Zooniverse partnership, and for the public.

The IAU has chosen 305 exoplanets and in September they’ll begin taking submissions for names. The submissions will then be compiled so you can vote for your favorite.

Crowdsourcing this project hopefully means we won’t end up with exoplanets named “Howie,” “Garth’s Green Grotesque Planet,” “The Death Star,” “The Sheldonsphere,” or “Xena, Warrior Princess” as the IAU takes this kind of thing very seriously. And considering all planets and dwarf planets have been named after Greek and Roman gods, it will be interesting to see if that trend continues or a whole new naming convention is created for exoplanets.

Who wouldn’t want to name a planet?

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