New names for existing stars and exoplanets are now official: the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has just released the result of its NameExoWorlds contest, with half a million votes coming in from about 182 territories and countries worldwide.
It's just like welcoming family relatives you were not acquainted with before, except the whole family stretches out across an overwhelmingly massive universe.
The IAU has been the principal authority for "baptizing" celestial bodies with official names since 1922. The organization's NameExoWorlds contest provided the first ever chance for the common man to give names to host stars and their exoplanets.
The Greek Goddess
The main requirements in proposing names were as follows: the newly adopted names should be from mythological figures from a wide variety of cultures across history, ancient cities, famous scientists, fictional characters and words taken from long gone languages.
All of the new names each have their own backstory.
One of the newly named exoplanets is Thestias, formerly known as Pollux b. Thestias is more than twice as large as Jupiter and was discovered by American astronomers nine years ago.
Thestias was a goddess in Greek mythology, and was the mother of Pollux. The originally proposed name for the planet was Leda, but it was already attributed to one of Jupiter's satellites.
Thestias is a winning name contributed by volunteers from Perth-based astronomy project theSkyNet. The group at theSkyNet will also give a name to a minor planet within the asteroid belt of our solar system, which will become official next year.
Where There Is Hope
The newly named exoplanet Spe revolves around a star now called Veritate. Both names are derived from Latin words "spes" (meaning hope) and "verita" (meaning truth), respectively.
The names were proposed by the Royal Astronomical Society in Canada. Veritate was previously called 14 Andromedae, while Spe was called 14 Andromae b. Their new names definitely give them more life.
Meanwhile, other new names did not only come from already existing words. Scientists from the Brevard Astronomical Society came up the name Orbitar to an exoplanet called 42 Draconis b. Orbitar is an unorthodox name as it's actually a contrived word that pays homage to the orbital operations of NASA.
Orbitar's host star is now called Fafnir, which came from a Norse mythological dwarf that could transform into a dragon.
Aside from Fafnir, names from other Norse deities were also used. Epsilon Eridani is now named Ran, the goddess of the sea in Norse mythology, while Ran's husband AEgir now replaced the exoplanet epsilon Eridani b.
Other stars with planets orbiting them were also renamed. The star previously known as 55 Cancri is now called Copernicus, and its planets are also named after famous scientists such as Galileo, Janssen, Brahe, Lippershey, and Harriot.
Another star is named after Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, a famous Spanish author. Exoplanets near the Cervantes star are now called Quijote, Dulcinea, Rocinante and Sancho, all fictional characters created by Cervantes.
The public gave their votes to 274 proposed names which were all submitted by astronomy organizations such as universities, schools, planetariums, and clubs from 45 countries. When voting ended on Oct. 31, a total of 573, 242 votes were counted for naming the 14 stars and 31 exoplanets. The full results can be viewed in the NameExoWorlds website.
Four winning entries had come from the United States and Canada; one from Latin America and Mexico; two from Morocco and Syria; six from France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland and the Netherlands; and another six from Thailand, Japan and Australia.
The new names will now be used in parallel with previous scientific nomenclature, giving due credit to the groups and clubs that proposed them.