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New campaign urges every country on earth to name distant worlds

Artist concept of an exoplanet near his star
Illustration: ESO / L. Calçada

A new campaign led by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) named IAU100 NameExoWorlds will allow every country in the world to name a star and its exoplanet, the IAU announced yesterday.

Nearly 100 nations are all registered and ready to go, with the next step involving national campaigns to pick names and give the public the opportunity to vote. The purpose of all of this, according to the words of the IAU, is "to create an awareness of our place in the universe and to think about how the earth might be perceived by one civilization on another planet."

Of course, but the competition has a practical purpose. Astronomers have detected nearly 4,000 exoplanets in the last three decades, and virtually all of them are cited with cumbersome scientific terms such as KMT-2017-BLG-1146Lb, OGLE-2013-BLG-0132Lb, and 2MASS J19383260 + 4603591 b, just a few call three.

The IAU is the government agency for such affairs and launches the new campaign commemorating its 100th anniversary. This is the second IAU competition of its kind, the first being the NameExoWorlds campaign 2015, in which 31 exoplanets from 19 planetary systems were named by the public. At least the public could vote on a pre-selected list of 247 names proposed by astronomy groups, universities, planetariums, and the like. These were again checked by the IAU. The chances of voting for Planet McPlanetface or Cybertron are therefore bad. Despite this, some rather unconventional and strange names were chosen in the 2015 competition, including Spe, Orbitar, Poltergeist, Dagon and AEgir.

The IAU is doing that again, but on a much larger scale. Each participating country is assigned a star and its only exoplanet (systems with more than one known planet excluded). In any case, a designated star can be seen from its assigned land and be bright enough to shine with small telescopes.

The national campaigns will take place from June to November 2019. The results will be reviewed by the IAU100 NameExoWorlds Steering Committee. The results will be announced in December. Countries that have not yet registered must do so by 30 July 2019.

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