For hundreds of years humanity has looked to the stars and given names to the celestial bodies they see. Only in the last hundred years have we had an official consensus on how we name such stars, planets and other objects. Now however, the scientists who are at the forefront of naming these objects have a problem: there are too many for them to name themselves.
In the last decade, scientists have begun to discover new exoplanets (planets outside of our solar system) at an incredibly rapid pace. In order to keep up, scientists have resorted to giving them simple alpha-numeric strings as names such as GRB 130606A or KOI 784.02. Acknowledging that these names are rather boring, the main organisation behind this naming, the International Astronomical Union (IAU), has come up with a novel solution: let the public name the planets.
To begin this effort, they have created a shortlist of 300 of the most interesting (and confirmed) exoplanets for initial naming. While individuals themselves cannot come up with a name, public institutions, universities, schools and astronomy clubs can all nominate. The rules are simple:
Once names have been submitted they will then be opened up to the public to be voted upon over the next year. To do this, users simply have to register to a purpose-built website for the poll called Name Exoworlds and there they can easily cast their vote for the names of new planets.
Winning entries will be set in stone as the official name of the planet from then on. While scientists will continue to the use the numbering system to refer to these planets within the discipline, they will henceforth only ever be referred to as the voted upon name in public discourse.
Given that these are the names which future astronauts will have to use for centuries to come, here’s hoping the public picks good ones…
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