Name the ExoWorlds: Contest begins to allow the public to name exoplanets and stars

Name the ExoWorlds - 20 planetary systems comprising 15 stars and 32 exoplanets – was launched by the International Astronomical Union this week

Click to follow
The Independent Online

18 Delphini B and PSR 1257+12 are hardly planetary names that trip off the tongue. A contest has therefore begun that provides not only the first opportunity for the public to name exoplanets – planets outside our solar system that orbit a star rather than our sun - but also, for the first time in centuries, to give names to stars.

Name the ExoWorlds - 20 planetary systems comprising 15 stars and 32 exoplanets – was launched by the International Astronomical Union this week in an attempt to bring the public into the process.

Astronomy clubs and non-profit organisations from 45 countries submitted 247 proposals for the names of the 20 ExoWorlds. Suggested names include MariaMitchell, the first female astronomer in the United States, for the star 14 Andromedae; Hikari, meaning ‘light’ in Japanese for the star HD 81688; and Whymper, after the British climber Edward Whymper, for the planet 47 Ursae Majoris b.

exoplanet-6.jpg
Earlier this month it was announced that astronomers discovered the closest rocky planet outside our solar system, which is larger than Earth and a “potential gold mine of science data”.

The project’s 20 exoplanet systems were limited to those discovered in 2008 or earlier, to ensure that they contain confirmed, well-studied planets, according to the IAU. The systems also include 51 Pegasi b, the first exoplanet ever discovered orbiting a sun-like star, which was spotted by astronomers in 1995.

Earlier this month it was announced that astronomers discovered the closest rocky planet outside our solar system, which is larger than Earth and a “potential gold mine of science data”.

 

Using Nasa’s Spitzer Space Telescope, scientists managed to confirm the existence of the planet, in a major milestone in space research. However, unlike Kepler 452b, the Earth-like planet that was discovered recently, this new planet, HD 219134b, although 21 light years from Earth compared to Kepler’s 1,400, it is far too close to its star to sustain life.

Michael Werner, the project scientist for the Spitzer mission at Nasa said: “This exoplanet will be one of the most studied for decades to come.”

Astronomers have discovered around 2,000 exoplanets so far. Speaking at the launch last month of an ambitious European mission to answer questions about how planetary systems form and evolve, Professor Giovanna Tinetti of University College London said: “The essential nature of exoplanets is still something of a mystery to us: despite finding nearly 2000 exoplanets we haven’t yet found any discernible pattern linking the presence, size or orbital parameters of a planet to what its parent star is like.

“If we are going to answer questions, such as how is the chemistry of a planet linked to the environment in which it forms, or is its birth and evolution driven by its host star, we need to study a statistically large sample of exoplanets. This is what [the mission] is designed to do.”

Public voting on the proposed names in the Exoworlds project officially opened late on 11 August during a ceremony at the IAU’s 29th General Assembly in Honolulu, with astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger from Cornell University casting the first vote.

Each computer, smartphone or tablet will be permitted to cast just one vote for each of the 20 exoplanetary systems, IAU representatives said. The ballot closes on 31 October.

Comments