UK public given chance to vote on new planet name
Medieval legends, ancient Scottish monuments and famous mountains among shortlisted exoplanet names
The UK public is being given the opportunity to name an exoplanet and its host star as part of a competition run by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to celebrate its 100th anniversary and launched by Professor Robert Walsh, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).
Last month, hundreds of UK schools and youth organisations submitted naming ideas, with suggestions ranging from Celtic mythology to UK mountains and connections to Stonehenge. [The full shortlist can be found in notes to editors below].
Worldwide, 92 other countries are also deciding on the names for their own assigned planetary systems, each consisting of an exoplanet – a planet that exists outside of our own solar system – and its host star. The UK’s assigned exoplanet, currently named WASP-13b, is about a third of the mass of Jupiter, whilst its host star, currently named WASP-13, is thought to be larger, hotter, and older than our Sun. This system is over 740 light years from planet Earth.
Over 10,000 young people across the UK suggested over 1,000 individual names for consideration. These were whittled down to a top ten by a team of astronomy experts, with the public now offered the chance to crown a winner.
"This is an amazing chance for people to make their mark on the universe and support the next generation of astronomers – not to mention the opportunity to name a celestial body for all time."
Voting opens on 19 November and closes on 2 December 2019, with the winner announced mid-December. Votes can be cast via theUK competition website.
Professor Robert Walsh, professor of astrophysics at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and UK national outreach coordinator for the IAU, is responsible for overseeing the UK arm of the IAU celebrations. Commenting on the competition, Walsh said: “We have been overwhelmed by the quality of the names proposed and the creativity displayed by our young people. It was incredibly hard to narrow down the entries, but the shortlist is made up of some brilliant suggestions.
“The names chosen for the shortlist come from all corners of our country and have long-standing cultural, historical, or geographical significance to the UK. In the mix are beautiful celestial descriptions in Scottish and Manx Gaelic, ancient island monuments and some of the best areas in the country to observe the night sky. It is now down to the public to vote for their favourites. This is an amazing chance for people to make their mark on the universe and support the next generation of astronomers – not to mention the opportunity to name a celestial body for all time.”
The UK competition is a partnership between the IAU, UCLan, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the Royal Astronomical Society, UK European Space Education Research Office, Girlguiding, the University of Warwick, the National Schools Observatory, the Association of Science and Discovery Centres, the British Association of Planetaria and UKFAST.
View an artist's impression of the exoplanet and its star on the UCLan Flickr Gallery.
Notes to editors
The finalist names have a common theme with the first name being the proposed name for the exoplanet (currently called WASP-13b) while the second name is the proposed name for the star (currently called WASP-13).
The shortlist is alphabetical on proposed star name:
- Snowdon and Ben Nevis (31st Burnley Guide Unit, Burnley): These are mountains of the UK that reach up from our country towards the skies.
- Shaogal and Breagha (379 Squadron RAF Air Cadets, Highlands): Both names come from the Scottish Gaelic language where Shaogal is the word for “world” while Breagha means “beautiful”.
- Delwyn and Ceridwen (Maesycwmmer Primary School, Caerphilly): In Welsh, Delwyn means “godly friend” while Ceridwen was the Celtic goddess of rebirth, transformation, and inspiration.
- Finlaggan and Dunyvaig (3rd Argyll, Scout Group, Argyll and Bute): Historic ancient monuments on the Isle of Islay, Finlaggan was the ancient seat of the Norse/Gaelic Lord of the Isles and Dunyvaig was the naval fortress.
- Elan and Galloway (Garrett Hall Primary School, Tyldesley): These are Dark Sky Parks and some of the best areas in the UK to view the night sky.
- Cruinlagh and Gloas (Cronk y Berry Primary School, Isle of Man): In Manx Gaelic, Gloas means “shine” while Cruinlagh means “orbit”, describing what the exoplanet and star are actually doing.
- Dalla and Kann (Treviglas Academy, Newquay): Kann is Cornish for “bright” while Dalla is Cornish for “beginning” and so the star and exoplanet together would be “Bright Beginning”.
- Thistle and Poppy (Mytchett Primary School, Camberley): Using the theme of UK flowering plants, the poppy gives us hope for a peaceful future while the thistle stands for bravery, determination and strength.
- Hafal and Recorde (Bryn Celynnog Comprehensive School, Pontypridd): Robert Recorde (1510-1558) was a famous Welsh mathematician who invented the equals sign which is “Hafal” in Welsh.
- Bluestone and Sarsen (Chelmsford Hospital School, Chelmsford): These are the two main types of rock used in the construction of Stonehenge, drawing attention to the bridge between the ancient and modern world.
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 arises from the fact they were investigated by the Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP) international consortium.
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 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.
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.