Mostly Thumbs Down on ExoNames

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Infographic displaying a breakdown of the votes per person and country/region in the IAU NameExoWorlds vote to name alien worlds. As announced on December 15, publicly endorsed names for 31 exoplanets and 14 host stars were accepted and are to be officially sanctioned by the IAU.

The name 51 Pegasi B, the first planet identified outside of our solar system, has been eclipsed.  Now it is Dimidium.

The (at least) five planet system orbiting the star formerly known as 55 Cancri now circles the star Copernicus.  And those planets 55 Cancri B, C, D, E, and F are Galileo, Brahe, Lippershey, Janssen and Harriot.

These are some of the 31 newly-named exoplanets and 14 newly-named stars, the result of an international naming competition organized by the International Astronomical Union and made public and formal last month.

More than half a million people voted in the naming sweepstakes, and that no doubt brought a lot of attention and interest into the world of exoplanet research.  Organizers of the effort have explained their effort this way:  “Given the publicity and emotional investment associated with these discoveries, worldwide recognition is important and the IAU offers its unique experience for the benefit of a successful public naming process.”

But a so far anecdotal survey of exoplanet scientists suggests that it will be a long time — if ever — before they use those IAU selected names.

For instance, Didier Queloz, who was part of the Swiss team that actually made that first discovery of 51 Peg b, is not at all impressed.

“‘Naming a planet” is mostly PR solely triggered by  the (IAU) executive committee to engage with the public,” said Queloz, now of the Astrophysics Group of the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, U.K.  “Given the context of the exercise I think it is unlikely the  community of professional will use any of these names. It is worth to keep in mind formally the concept of exoplanet is  undefined by the IAU and the agreement on exoplanet definition is, I guess, a prerequisite to any formal naming scheme.”

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