Young people given the chance to name a planet

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UCLan’s Professor Robert Walsh to lead UK arm of competition

In celebration of its 100th anniversary, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) is giving budding young astronomers across the UK the opportunity to name their own exoplanet and the star it orbits.

Worldwide, the IAU ExoWorld Naming Competition has invited 93 countries to give a new name to different planetary systems, consisting of an exoplanet – a planet that exists outside our own Solar System – and its host star. Each nation's star is visible from that country and is bright enough to be observed through small telescopes. Usually, the exoplanet itself is hidden by the brightness of the star and special observational techniques must be used to detect its presence.

The UK’s designated exoplanet is currently named WASP-13b. It is a large, gaseous planet, found in the Lynx constellation. It is about a third of the mass of Jupiter and takes just four days to orbit its host star, known as WASP-13. This star is over 740 light years from Earth and is similar to the Sun, although it is likely to be larger, hotter and older.

We’re expecting to see lots of creativity from the next generation of astronomers and scientists when it comes to naming these celestial bodies. In fact, we’re hoping the suggestions will be out of this world.

Between Friday 6 September and Friday 18 October, schools and youth organisations across the country can make their naming suggestions via an online submission form on the UK Exoworld website. These names will then be whittled down by a panel of astronomy experts to a final selection, with the public getting the chance to vote for their favourites in mid-November. The winning names will be announced in mid-December 2019 along with all other selected names from the countries participating in the competition.

Professor Robert Walsh, professor of astrophysics at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and UK national outreach coordinator for the IAU, will be responsible for running the UK arm of the competition.

Commenting on this astronomical opportunity, Professor Robert Walsh said: “This is an unparalleled chance for a school or youth group to leave its mark on the universe. Imagine there being a star and planet out there that will have the name you chose for ever more. We hope that teachers and youth leaders will embrace this competition as a way to engage young people in science by exploring the wonders beyond our own Solar System.

“We’re expecting to see lots of creativity from the next generation of astronomers and scientists when it comes to naming these celestial bodies. In fact, we’re hoping the suggestions will be out of this world!”

The UK competition is a partnership between the IAU, UCLan, the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the Royal Astronomical Society, UK European Space Education Research Office, the University of Warwick, the National Schools Observatory, the Association of Science and Discovery Centres, the British Association of Planetaria, Girlguiding and UKFAST.

View images of the exoplanet and its star on the UCLan Flickr Gallery.

Notes to editors

Website for IAU UK Exoworld Competition and proposing names.

Further details on UK designated exoplanet and host star

The UK specific exoplanet and host star is WASP-13b and WASP-13 respectfully. Their current scientific designation arise from the fact they were investigated by the Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP) international consortium.

WASP-13

WASP-13 is a star in the Lynx constellation. The star is similar, in terms of metallicity and mass, to our Sun, although it is hotter and most likely older. The star was first observed in 1997 and is 747 light years from Earth.

WASP-13b

WASP-13b is an extrasolar planet that was discovered in 2009 in the orbit of the sun-like star WASP-13. The planet has a mass of about a third that of Jupiter, but has a radius 22% larger than the gas giant. The exoplanet orbits very close to its host star at approximately only 5% of the distance between the Sun and Earth. It does one full orbit around the star in only four days.

More information can be found at the Wide Angle Search for Planets website as well as at NASA’s Exoplanet Catalog.

Rules for naming exoplanet and host star

The competition will only accept names for WASP-13 and WASP-13b that are submitted by UK-based school classes and youth organisations/groups. Each submission must be undertaken by an adult (18+ years) on behalf of the school class or youth organisations/group. Multiple separate submissions from a class/group can be made.

Please note that unfortunately submissions by individuals will not be accepted.

The proposed names should be of things, people, or places of long-standing cultural, historical, or geographical significance, worthy of being memorialized through naming of a celestial object.

Although not necessary, it would be good if the names could be related to the UK in some manner. Also, the names may be drawn from themes related to the sky and astronomy, or related in some way to the constellation that the exoplanetary system is observed within.

Two names should be proposed - one for the exoplanet and one for the star it orbits.

The two names should follow a common naming theme. The naming theme describes how the names are related in some logical way, should be summarized in a sentence or two, and be broad enough that additional names could be used to identify further objects in that exoplanetary system in the future (e.g. additional planets which might be discovered, additional stellar companions). Examples from the IAU include, say, rivers of country X or fictional lands in 19th century stories from country Y etc. but we are looking for as much creativity as possible!

Proposed names must be:

  • between 4 and 16 characters in length in the Latin alphabet (including spaces or punctuation);
  • pronounceable; and
  • non-offensive

If possible, names should preferably be one word and as mentioned, be connected to the United Kingdom in some manner.

In addition, proposed names must not be:

  • names of a purely or principally commercial nature;
  • names of individuals, places or events principally known for political, military or religious activities;
  • names of individuals that died less than a century ago (after 1919);
  • names of living individuals;
  • names of organizations related to the selection process;
  • names of pet animals;
  • contrived names (i.e. new, invented);
  • acronyms;
  • names that include numbers or punctuation marks (though diacritics are acceptable; eg. déjà vu);
  • names that are principally known as trademarks or protected by intellectual property claims.

We also reserve the right to exclude names that are too similar to those already existing names of astronomical objects. Names already assigned should be checked using the following links (the expert panel will also use these to guide the short-listing process):

All proposed names must be accompanied by a citation of no more than 150 words explaining the naming theme for the names chosen.

The winning names will be recognized by the IAU as the appropriate publicly used name for the object(s). It is understood that the selected winning names will not replace the scientific alphanumeric designations.

The winning names will be published as such, along with due credit to the proposers that proposed them. This new name may then be used internationally along with, or instead of, the scientific designation, permanently and without restrictions.

The official IAU rules are also available on the NameExoWorlds website.

About the International Astronomical Union (IAU)

Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world's largest professional body for astronomers bringing together more than 13500 professional astronomers from more than 100 countries worldwide. Its mission is to promote and safeguard astronomy in all its aspects, including research, communication, education and development, through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them.

It is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2019 by organising a wide range of astronomy related events including the opportunity for countries to give names to exoplanets and their host stars.

IAU100 website

IAU 100 NameExoWorlds website

Press Office | 02 September 2019