Name That Exoplanet

Ever want to name a planet? For real? Well, now’s your chance!

The International Astronomical Union has decided it is time to start assigning names to some of the hundreds of extra-solar planets that have been discovered so far.

Astronomy clubs and public non-profits can sign up right now at IAU’s NameExoWorlds web site and add their vote for the first batch of confirmed exoplanets they want to see named from the list provided.nameexoworlds

Next month, once the votes have been tallied, these same clubs and non-profits can submit their proposed names for the top 20-30 exoplanets selected, along with proposals for the names for their host stars. Finally, in June of this year, the site will be opened up to the general public who then get to vote on the names submitted.

The results of the vote will be announced at IAU’s General Assembly at the beginning of August.

It’s all a big publicity stunt, of course. There’s no compelling scientific reason for naming planets we cannot even see with the largest telescopes in the world at this stage, but the naming event will certainly make headlines around the world, and that’s a good thing.

It will boost the public’s interest in the subject of exoplanets, and will help to maintain that interest going forward, since it’s a lot easier to remain emotionally invested in something called, say, “Avalonia” than “HD 13189b.” No doubt science fiction writers will be inspired, and it won’t be long before the new designations start appearing in sci-fi books and movies, too.

But, you know, it might just be possible that one day, thousands of years from now, one of our distant descendants will lay eyes upon an exoplanet still known by the name chosen by the people of this generation. After all, many of the names of stars and planets we are familiar with today were allocated more than two thousand years ago. So now’s your chance to grab a little piece of immortality…

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