The International Astronomical Union is the sometimes-stodgy organization in charge of naming planets and moons and other space-y things. And for the past little while, it has been taking all the fun out of naming newly discovered bodies in space.
When William Shatner (Captain Kirk) hijacked an online poll run by the SETI Institute and almost got one of Pluto's moons named Vulcan, it was the IAU that vetoed the picks. (They went with the more respectable Styx and Kerberos instead.)
When space research-oriented fundraising organization Uwingu set up a platform to let people buy naming rights to planets in far-off solar systems, in the interest of raising money for further astronomical exploration, there was the IAU being a spoilsport—only the International Astronomical Union is allowed to name space things, the International Astronomical Union said.
But the IAU, it seems, is coming around to the fact that people really love naming things in space.
Now, the IAU is running their own contest to give people a chance to name exoplanets, says New Scientist. From now until August 2015 the NameExoWorlds contest will give regular non-Astronomical Union plebs a chance to participate in the exoplanet naming game.
According to the IAU there are 305 planets up for grabs. On the downside, the IAU is still being pretty strict about their rules, and they're still holding on to their veto power. Here are (some of) the rules:
Proposed names should be:
• 16 characters or less in length;
• Preferably one word;
• Pronounceable (in some language);
• Not too similar to an existing name of an astronomical object. Names already assigned to astronomical objects can be checked using the links http://cds.u-strasbg.fr/cgi-bin/sesame (for galactic and extragalactic names), and the MPC database http://www.minorplanetcenter.net/db_search (for names).
In addition it is not allowed to propose:
• Names of pet animals;
• Names of a purely or principally commercial nature;
• Names of individuals, places or events principally known for political, military or religious activities;
• Names of living individuals.
On top of that, the names can't be subject to copyright royalties, “as could be the case for names created in fiction works, like books, plays, movies, etc.”
So, lots of particulars, and the IAU still holds the reins. But, on the other hand, these names will be officially official. What appropriate name would you give an exoplanet, now that you have the chance?