Name That Planet! Alien Worlds Looking for Winning Names

Artist’s view shows an extrasolar plane
An artist’s view shows an extrasolar planet. Courtesy of IAU/M. Kornmesser/N. Risinge

Name that planet! Even astronomers have grown weary of planet discoveries with names that only a robot could remember, and on Wednesday they unveiled a new worldwide alien planet naming contest.

Announced by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the NameExoWorlds contest offers the public the chance to vote on more memorable names for some 305 planets newly discovered orbiting nearby stars, ones suggested by astronomy clubs worldwide. A ceremony will reveal the winners in 2015. 

“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,” says the contest announcement from the IAU. Since 1919, the IAU has been the official naming body among professional astronomers for new discoveries in the heavens. Most memorably, the group made headlines by decreeing Pluto a “dwarf” planet in a 2006 vote.

The IAU has also clashed with astronomer Alan Stern over the 2013 naming contest with the nonprofit organization Uwingu to name Alpha Centauri bb, the alien planet discovery closest to our own solar system. In April, that contest announced “Albertus Alauda” as the winning name.

Planet Potpourri

Over the past two decades, astronomers have detected more than a thousand alien worlds. The new IAU contest will look for names for planets discovered before 2008 that have withstood at least five years of follow-up observations. (They now typically bear such sprightly monikers as HD 183263 b, a designation borrowed from technical star catalogs.)

“The winning names will not replace the scientific designations, which already exist for all exoplanets and their host stars, but they will be sanctioned by the IAU as their adopted names, and be publicized as such, along with due credit to the astronomy clubs or organisations that proposed them,” according to the announcement.

Here’s betting that “Pandora” will be among the entrants. Let us know what names you would suggest.

Follow Dan Vergano on Twitter.

Changing Planet