When it comes to naming distant planets, the International Astronomical Union is looking to you, Joe Public. No longer will planets be named by some dude with a telescope and an affinity toward Roman mythology! Unless that’s what you vote for, of course…
Starting in 2015, the IAU, which is in charge of naming celestial objects, will hold a public vote to name 305 exoplanets that were discovered before December 31, 2008. Teaming up with the company, Zooniverse, this voting process is part of new project titled NameExoWorlds.
Exoplanet is the classification we give to planets that do not orbit our sun. Over 1,700 exoplanets discovered since 1992. According to representatives from the IAU, the 305 yet-to-be named exoplanets are part of 260 exoplanetary systems that include 1 to 5 planets orbiting a star. These systems are classified as ExoWorlds by the IAU.
Starting this September, the IAU will invite astronomy clubs and nonprofits to name the exoplanets. These groups will have an opportunity to vote for the the top 20 to 30 exoplanetary systems they want to name. In December, the groups will submit proposals. When March 2015 rolls around, the public will be able to go online and vote for their favorite names. Voting will close in July, and the new names will be announced in August 2015.
(Obviously, I already know what names I’m voting for — Princess Becky’s Super Awesome Planets 1 – 305.)
“People have been naming celestial objects for millennia, long before any scientific systems of names ever existed,” stated IAU representatives. “Even today, almost every civilization and culture uses common names to describe the stars and planets visible to the naked eye, as well as their apparent distribution on the sky – constellations, asterisms, [star patterns], etc.”
The IAU does have a few parameters for coming up with names, including a ban on naming exoworlds after trademarked properties or living people. (Sorry, Planet Ronald McDonald!) Furthermore, the new names wouldn’t replace the exoplanet’s official scientific classification, which is typically the planet’s star name followed by a letter or number.
To learn more about the contest, you can visit the website, NameExoWorlds.org