Competition Will Let You Name an Exoplanet

When it comes to naming all those exoplanets that astronomers keep finding, it’s up to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to do the job. In an effort to reach out to the global community, they’re running a new contest. In honour of their 100 year anniversary, the IAU has organized the 100IAU NameExoWorlds event.

“The NameExoWorlds initiative reminds us that we are all together under one sky.

Debra Elmegreen, IAU President Elect.

In this competition, every country in the world could have the honour of naming an exoplanet and its host star. The idea behind this contest is to build an understanding of our place in the Universe, and to foster fraternity and citizenship. “This exciting event invites everyone worldwide to think about their collective place in the Universe, while stimulating creativity and global citizenship,” said Debra Elmegreen, IAU President Elect, in a press release. “The NameExoWorlds initiative reminds us that we are all together under one sky.

It’s up to each country to organize their own effort to name a star/planet combo. The candidate system will be chosen for each country by the IAU, so that the named system will be visible from the country’s capitol city. It’ll also be visible through a small, backyard telescope. According to the IAU, this is only the second time in history that a naming campaign like this has been run. They ran their first one in 2015. Though there was some controversy at first, 14 host stars and 31 exoplanets received names.

This is an artist’s illustration of exoplanet PSR_B1257+12_b. The PSR at the beginning means it’s orbiting a pulsar. Terrible name! Think you can do better? Image Credit: By Tyrogthekreeper (talk) –, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The IAU is setting up a national committee in each interested country to organize the effort. The IAU has established guidelines and a methodology to help the committees do their work. This is the methodology from the IAU’s website:

  • The proposed names should be of things, people, or places of long-standing cultural, historical, or geographical significance, worthy of being assigned to a celestial object.
  • Although not necessary, the names may be drawn from themes related to the sky and astronomy, or related in some way to the constellation or a cultural asterism in which the exoplanetary system lies.
  • In recognition of the UN 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019), speakers of Indigenous languages are encouraged to propose names drawn from those languages.
  • Two (2) names should be proposed – one (1) for the exoplanet and one (1) for the star it orbits.
  • The two names should follow a common naming theme. The naming theme describing 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 drawn from the literature to name additional objects in that exoplanetary system in the future (e.g. additional planets which might be discovered, additional stellar companions). Example: Rivers of country XYZ. Fictional lands in 19th century stories from country XYZ, etc.

The IAU has spelled out some exclusions, too, most of which are pretty obvious. No names based on principally military, religious, or political figures, since those would likely be divisive. Also no names with a principally commercial nature. Also, no names of living individuals. (Sorry Trump supporters!)

Here’s an artist’s illustration of exoplanet 55 Cancri b. Not a very exciting name. The IAU held its first naming contest in 2015, and the winning name was Galileo. Much better. Image Credit: By PlanetUser – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The names are intended to be used publicly, or alongside the scientific names. However, these new names will not replace the scientific names; that would be far too confusing.

The national campaigns in participating countries will run from June 2019 to November 2019. The names will be evaluated by the IAU100 NameExoWorlds Steering Committee, and in December 2019, the global results will be announced.

If you’re interested, you can check to see if your country is already taking place here. If your country is not listed, you still have time. If you’re part of a science organisation or Non-Governmental Organisation interested in carrying out a nation-wide contest, you have until July 30th 2019 to express interest in organising a national campaign.

Evan Gough

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