IAU’s contest to name stars and exoplanets has begun. The website lists more than 400 proposals for names of 45 bodies in 20 systems collected from clubs and non-profit organizations. Professional organizations involved in astronomy were locked out from the contest. One-third, or 33% of the proposed names are Japanese words, 14% is of Latin origin, 13% is English, 10% Greek. The rest is shared by Armenian, Arab, Finnish, Ainu, Nordic, Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian, Portuguese and Brazilian, Celtic and Swahili and additional aboriginal/indigenous words from Australia and South and North America. No other nation is represented in the proposals which means that only the listed nations will have their words placed onto the star and exoplanetary maps. 6% of the proposed words have no meaning: they are random character strings, mosaic words, or abbreviations. Some even have a combination of letters and numbers – the name format the contest was designed to replace.
Only 4 of the to-be-renamed star names is a letter-number combination, most of them are classical combinations of greek letters and the name of their constellation. No wonder that some proposed to keep the original names.
It is not easy to select from the hundreds of names, partly because the explanation of the names is taken directly from the proposals, which included very different types of details. Some mythological names are spelled in Latin, Greek or French style. If names will be accepted in these formats, it will bring an unprecedented linguistic chaos and ethnic bias into planetary and celestial cartography – and the promise was to keep the winning names.
So far, IAU strictly resisted to give any words to any other organization, company or individual in naming stellar and planetary objects (except minor planets) and now the public has an unprecedented freedom to name these object as they like. This may seem to be a 180-degree turn from IAU’s earlier standpoint, when they disapproved New Horizons Pluto mission principal investigator Alan Stern’s Uwingo from collecting new names of exoplanets and Mars craters to raise funds for planetary missions. Now IAU is doing the same, without money involved, by administering a voting website and again not letting professional organizations into their way. (It must be added that IAU did approve Stern’s Pluto surface feature naming project; these names are now in informal status).
Although there are no names in the published list that would require the cartographic prudishness as in the case of S. P. Crater in Arizona, there are some interesting English coined proposals – we can say nothing about the Japanese words. So we encourage you to vote the names you like, and see what will fit the star charts to be printed.
Find the names here.