After a crowdsourcing campaign that lasted more than a year, the International Astronomical Union has issued its first-ever list of approved names for extrasolar planets – a lineup of 31 worlds, including some famous discoveries.
Among the new names to get to know are Aegir, also known as Epsilon Eridani b, one of the closest known exoplanets at a distance of 10 light-years; Dagon, a.k.a. Fomalhaut b, the first exoplanet to be detected directly in visible wavelengths; and Dimidium, a.k.a. 51 Pegasi b, the first exoplanet to be discovered around a sunlike star. Another crowd-pleaser is 55 Cancri b, a hot Jupiter-type planet that’s been named Galileo in honor of the famous 17th-century astronomer.
The spookiest name on the list may well be Poltergeist, which is more memorable than the planet’s scientific name, PSR 1257+12 c. It’s one of the first planets detected beyond the solar system, circling a pulsar in the constellation Virgo.
The planets named today have been found over the past 23 years in 19 distant star systems. Some of the stars in those systems – for example, Fomalhaut – already have proper names. Others, like 51 Pegasi, have been known previously only by names derived from the constellations in which they lie. Fourteen stars on the IAU’s list were in the latter category, and as a result of the naming process, the stars now have new names, too.
The names are the result of the IAU’s NameExoWorlds project, which got started in July 2014. Astronomical groups helped select a roster of stars and planets to be named, and the names suggested by those groups were then put up to a public vote on the Internet. The IAU said 573,242 votes were received from 182 countries and territories by the Oct. 31 deadline.
Over the weeks that followed, the IAU worked with the folks who suggested the winning names to fine-tune the list. “The newly adopted names take the form of different mythological figures from a wide variety of cultures from across history, as well as famous scientists, fictional characters, ancient cities and words selected from bygone languages,” the IAU said:
One of the winning names, for the planet Tau Bootis b, was thrown out because the IAU decided the name didn’t conform with its naming conventions. The planet will be added to the list for a future naming contest, the IAU said.
The IAU came up with its contest after a controversy erupted over an unofficial planet-naming project organized by Uwingu, a commercial venture that raises money for space science and education projects. Uwingu’s project charges a fee to register nominations for planet names, as well as votes in support of those names. The IAU, which is traditionally in charge of approving the names of celestial objects, bristled at that challenge. “Such schemes have no bearing on the official naming process,” it said back in 2013.
Here’s the full list of exoplanet names approved by the IAU:
- 14 Andromedae: The star is named Veritate, and planet 14 Andromedae b is named Spe. The suggestions came from Canada.
- 18 Delphini: The star is named Musica, and planet 18 Delphini b is named Arion. The suggestions came from Japan.
- 42 Draconis: The star is named Fafnir, and planet 42 Draconis b is named Orbitar. The suggestions came from the U.S.
- 47 Ursae Majoris: The star is named Chalawan. 47 Ursae Majoris b is named Taphao Thong, and 47 Ursae Majoris c is named Taphao Kaew. The suggestions came from Thailand.
- 51 Pegasi: The star is named Helvetios, and planet 51 Pegasi b is named Dimidium. The suggestions came from Switzerland.
- 55 Cancri: The star is named Copernicus. Five planets are also named: Galileo for b, Brahe for c, Lippershey for d, Janssen for e, Harriot for f. Planet Janssen became known in 2012 as the “diamond planet,” but astronomers later said that it may not be all that sparkly. The suggestions came from the Netherlands.
- Ain b, also known as Epsilon Tauri b: The planet is named Amateru, a suggestion that came from Japan.
- Edasich b, also known as Iota Draconis b: The planet is named Hypatia, a suggestion that came from Spain.
- Epsilon Eridani: The star is named Ran, and planet Epsilon Eridani b is named Aegir. The suggestions came from the U.S.
- Errai b, also known as Gamma Cephei b: The planet is named Tadmor, a suggestion that came from Syria.
- Fomalhaut b, also known as Alpha Piscis Austrini b: The planet is named Dagon, a suggestion that came from the U.S.
- HD 104985: The star is named Tonatiuh, and planet HD 104985 b is named Meztli. The suggestions came from Mexico.
- HD 149026: The star is named Ogma, and planet HD 149026 b is named Smertrios. When it was detected in 2007, Smertrios was called “the hottest planet yet observed in the universe.” The suggestions came from France.
- HD 81688: The star is named Intercrus, and planet HD 81688 b is named Arkas. The suggestions came from Japan.
- Mu Arae: The star is named Cervantes. Four planets are also named: Quijote for b, Dulcinea for c, Rocinante for d and Sancho for e. The suggestions came from Spain.
- Pollux b, also known as Beta Geminorum b: The planet is named Thestias, a suggestion that came from Australia.
- PSR 1257+12: The star is named Lich. Three planets are also named: Draugr for b, Poltergeist for c and Phobetor for d. These are the “pulsar planets” that were discovered starting in 1992. The suggestions came from Italy.
- Upsilon Andromedae: The star is named Titawin. Three planets are also named: Saffar for b, Samh for c and Majriti for d. The suggestions came from Morocco.
- Xi Aquilae: The star is named Libertas, and planet Xi Aquilae b is named Fortitudo. The suggestions came from Japan.