Did You Know You Could Name a Planet?

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Image: IAU OAO/NARIT

Since NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency launched the James Webb Space Telescope in December 2021, we’ve been treated to some of the most extraordinary images of space (or anywhere, really) ever captured.

The large and power space telescope has also been busy observing new exoplanetary systems—and now, the International Astronomers Union (IAU) would like some help from the public naming 20 of them. That’s right: This is your chance to name a planet. Here’s what to know.

How to name a planet

First, a few clarifications. An “exoplanet” is a planet that exists outside our solar system; an “exoplanetary system” is an exoplanet and its host star.

And since 1919, the IAU has been tasked with cataloging celestial objects and establishing consistent conventions for naming them (among other things)—which explains why they’re holding the NameExoWorlds 2022 contest to name 20 exoplanetary systems.

How to enter the NameExoWorlds 2022 contest

This is a group project, so before you start thinking of names, you’re going to have to put a team together, or join one that already exists. And not just any team: One “composed of students and teachers, astronomy enthusiasts, amateurs astronomers, and exoplanetary scientists,” according to the IAU. But there’s no limit to the number of people that can join a team.

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Once you’ve assembled (or joined) your dream team, it’s time to get to work. There are detailed instructions and rules you can read to get all the specifics, but here’s a basic overview of what your team will need to do:

  • Choose a system from the 20 ExoWorlds on the list
  • Conduct an astronomy outreach event related to exoplanets
  • Propose a name for the exoplanet and its host star in your language, and provide an explanation of the cultural context
  • Register your team and submit your naming proposal (written format + video) via this form

The fine print

Teams may submit one entry—meaning a pair of names: One for the exoplanet and one for the host star. All proposals must be submitted by November 11, 2022. After that, they’ll be vetted and judged, and the winners will be announced on March 20, 2023.

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