Wednesday, December 16, 2015

New Names Announced for Exoplanets and Stars

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has just announced the official new names for a large number of exoplanets (i.e., planets orbiting other stars). You can read the full list here. (Thanks to my colleague Susan Stewart of the US Naval Observatory for pointing this out). The IAU is the organization that has the authority to confer official names on extraterrestrial objects. That place you paid to name a star after your girlfriend does not have this authority. The IAU had some sort of competition involving nominations from the public, which you can read about on their website.

This list will be of particular interest to science fiction writers out there -- it gives a whole bunch of new names for nearby planets. (For fictional planet names, you really can't beat Larry Niven's Known Space series.  His planets include We Made It, Jinx, Plateau, Home, and Down). But I do have one problem with the IAU list -- they also renamed a bunch of stars! For some stars, it's a clear improvement.  HD 149026 has been named "Ogma" (much easier to remember), while PSR 1257+12 (not an easy name to remember) is now called "Lich." But they renamed some fairly well-known stars as well. The prime example is epsilon Eridani, which is now supposed to be called "Ran." But epsilon Eridani is a famous star, visible to the naked eye. Maybe I'm just annoyed because I used it in a story that I sent off a few weeks ago. But I'm sure it's been used in countless other SF stories as well. And frankly, Ran just doesn't sound as good.

What's next?  Are we going to rename alpha Centauri? Actually, I have a better suggestion. Let's rename the sun.  My proposed new name is "Bob," as in "all of the planets orbit Bob" (sounds good) or "Bob is a large ball of hot gas" (does not sound good). Please do me a favor and write to the IAU in support of this proposal.

Update:  I misspoke when I implied that you can't actually name a star after your loved one. Of course you can, as long as he or she is named Ogma or Lich.


Bobby B said...

Your suggestion has such je ne sais quois that one wonders if you are still running Windows 95 on your laptop.

Bobby B said...

More seriously, some of the names are cool, but it seems like they should reserve Copernicus, Galileo, et al. for systems and planets with something special about them, which as near as I can tell, isn't the case.

Kathy said...

I keep wondering whether there's an Easter egg moon around one of the many "hot Jupiters" which have been found. IF we ever find one, it has to be named Larry.

BTW What are the odds of a habitable Smoke Ring?

Robert Scherrer said...

To Bobby B: What's a laptop?