What’s in a Name?

Astronomers tend to refer to planets by their parent star’s name, but maybe planets want to stand out with their own names! Well things are changing after a recent IAU competition to name planets.

The IAU NameExoWorlds public competition has come to a conclusion with new names for 30 exoplanets and 14 of the stars that host them. Space enthusiasts from 182 countries across the globe participated in the vote, reports the IAU.

In particular, the exoplanet I know best from this list — previously Fomalhaut b — is a directly imaged planet. If you’ve seen pictures of it, you may notice that the whole system looks a lot like the eye of Sauron because it contains a large debris belt (…and is often displayed with a “hot” colormap).

Image credit: NASA, ESA, P. Kalas, J. Graham, E. Chiang, and E. Kite (University of California, Berkeley), M. Clampin (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.), M. Fitzgerald (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, Calif.), and K. Stapelfeldt and J. Krist (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.)

Fomalhaut b sits in the Piscis Austrinas constellation. It is now known as Dagon, a name shared with an ancient Semitic deity — half-man, half-fish (proposed by the St. Cloud State University Planetarium). It sits far away from Fomalhaut, on an eccentric orbit around the star. The strange planet came under scrutiny when it was not detected in infrared light, leading some to postulate that it was a transient dust cloud. Followup observations and reanalysis of earlier Hubble data reaffirmed its planet status and gained Dagon the nickname “zombie planet.”

It’s important that our whole global community participates in defining what astronomy means to humanity. That can be anything from stargazing in our backyards to naming alien worlds.

For more information on the competition results:

http://www.iau.org/news/pressreleases/detail/iau1514/

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