UK young people have opportunity to name their own Exoplanet

5 June 2019

UCLan astrophysicist to lead UK campaign of International Astronomical Union competition

Within the framework of its 100th anniversary commemorations, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has announced today that it is is organising

the IAU100 NameExoWorlds global competition that allows any country in the world to give a popular name to a selected exoplanet and its host star. Over 70 countries including the United Kingdom, have already signed up to organise national campaigns that will provide the public with an opportunity to vote. The aim of this initiative is to create awareness of our place in the Universe and to reflect on how the Earth would potentially be perceived by a civilisation on another planet.

The planets in our own solar system orbit around our closest star, the Sun. Planets that orbit around other stars are called exoplanets. They are very difficult to see directly with telescopes as an exoplanet is hidden by the brightness of the host star.

The UK ExoWorld Naming Competition will launch in Autumn 2019. From September to October 2019, schools and youth organisations will propose names for the UK's specific exoplanet and host star. These suggestions will be reduced to a small number of finalist names by an expert panel. In November 2019, a public vote on these finalists will choose the new popular names, with the winner announced in December 2019.

In recent years, astronomers have discovered thousands of planets and planetary systems orbiting around nearby stars. Some are small and rocky like the Earth, whilst others are gas giants like Jupiter. It is now believed that most stars in the Universe could have planets orbiting them and that some of them may have physical characteristics that resemble those of the Earth. The sheer number of stars in the Universe, each potentially with orbiting planets, along with the ubiquity of the molecules and compounds that could lead to the evolution of organisms, suggests that extra-terrestrial life may be likely.

"This is a unique opportunity for UK young people to give a name to a planet and star! Imagine a planet out there that you have named and will be called that name for all time."

Professor Robert Walsh, UK National Outreach Coordinator for the International Astronomical Union and chair of the UK ExoWorld Naming Committee said, “This is a unique opportunity for UK young people to give a name to a planet and star! Imagine a planet out there that you have named and will be called that name for all time. This competition helps us understand our place in the Universe as we explore together other worlds outside of our own.”

The star and exoplanet given to the UK to name are WASP-13 and WASP-13b respectfully. Their current scientific designation arises from the fact they were first examined by the Wide Angle Search for Planets international consortium.

This exoplanet was discovered and reported upon in 2009 by an international team led by British astronomers.

WASP-13 is a star in the Lynx constellation and is very similar to our Sun, although it is hotter and most likely older. It is 505 light years from Earth.

WASP-13b is an exoplanet in the orbit of WASP-13. The planet is about a third of the mass of Jupiter, but with a radius 22% bigger than Jupiter's. WASP-13 orbits very close to its host star at only 5% of the distance between the Sun and Earth. It completes one full orbit in only four days.

More detailed information about the star and the nature of exoplanet can be found at NASA’s Exoplanet Catalog.

The IAU is the authority responsible for assigning official designations and names to celestial bodies and now, while celebrating its first 100 years of fostering international collaboration (IAU100), it wishes to contribute to the fraternity of all people with a significant token of global identity. Within the framework of the IAU100 NameExoWorlds project, the IAU offers every country the chance to name one planetary system, comprising an exoplanet and its host star. Each nation's designated star is visible from that country, and sufficiently bright to be observed through small telescopes. This is only the second time in history that a competition will lead to the naming of stars and exoplanets.

“This exciting event invites everyone worldwide to think about their collective place in the Universe, while stimulating creativity and global citizenship,” shared Debra Elmegreen, IAU President Elect. “The NameExoworlds initiative reminds us that we are all together under one sky.”

The IAU’s international press release can be read here