IAU Holds Public Contest to Name Exoplanets!
This summer, everyone will be able to cast their votes to name planets found outside of our solar system. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) will hold the NameExoWorlds contest, which attempts to crowd-source the names of exoplanets for the first time ever.
First, the IAU has compiled a list of well-known ExoWorlds, or host stars and their planets (up to five), and various public astronomical organizations and nonprofits will vote on 20-30 of them to name. Then, each of these organizations will submit several names for one ExoWorld, and the list of suggestions will be put to the public for a vote. The IAU will "validate" the winning votes, and then announce the final names in August 2015 at the IAU General Assembly in Honolulu. Read the full list of rules here.
Publicizing the names of planets is not a new concept; space start-up Uwingu started a campaign last year in which the public could submit and vote on names for exoplanets. They collected submission fees, and the proceeds went to space exploration research and education. But the IAU has the final say on all planet names (including the planets involved in this contest) and they stated that "the names of planets are not for sale."
"To my eye, [this contest is] just more IAU elitism," says astronomer and Uwingu co-founder Alan Stern. "Uwingu's model is in our view far superior – people can directly name planets around other stars, with no one having to approve the choices. With 100 billion-plus planets in the galaxy, why bother with committees of elites telling people what they do and don't approve of?"
And they do sound a little despotic about the power they wield at times; their rules state that, in order to be eligible for the public vote, the submitted names must be "non-offensive," and must avoid commercial, political, or religious overtones. All of which is understandable, but also extremely subjective. Speaking of subjective, they insist that submitted names must not be "names of pet animals." How on earth are they going to determine that? Also, their contest guidelines state, "It is understood that the winning public names, after the general public vote, will not replace the scientific designations, but will be recognised by the IAU as the appropriate publicly used name for the object(s), and be publicised as such."
There has also been some controversy over the IAU's inclusion of planet Gliese 581 d on their list, despite the fact that it may not actually exist.
"There are no guarantees that all of the 305 exoplanets in this list will stand the test of time," says IAU spokesman Lars Lindberg Christensen. "Science changes all the time, and these objects are notoriously hard to detect. So changes to the list at a later stage are not impossible, and possibly Gliese 581 d could be such a case. For now, after careful considerations, it remains on the list although its existence is disputed."