The International Astronomical Union has officially responded to Uwingu's planet-naming campaign, saying it's misleading and that it has absolutely no bearing on the official naming process.

Space-enthusiasts are understandably annoyed by the the painfully boring and seemingly non-sensical alpha-numeric designations given to exoplanets. This prompted Uwingu, a science-funding organization, to start a naming campaign for Alpha Centauri B b, the nearest known exoplanet. For $4.99 entrants can propose a name for the planet, and for $0.99 they can vote for a name already suggested.


Trouble is, the campaign is bullshit. Late last week the IAU issued a statement making it very clear that no one can buy the right to name a planet. And at the same time, the group took the opportunity to explain why planets are named the way they are:

Recently, an organisation has invited the public to purchase both nomination proposals for exoplanets, and rights to vote for the suggested names. In return, the purchaser receives a certificate commemorating the validity and credibility of the nomination. Such certificates are misleading, as these campaigns have no bearing on the official naming process — they will not lead to an officially-recognised exoplanet name, despite the price paid or the number of votes accrued...

...While exoplanet names such as 16 Cygni Bb or HD 41004 Ab may seem boring when considering the names of planets in our own Solar System, the vast number of objects in our Universe — galaxies, stars, and planets to name just a few — means that a clear and systematic system for naming these objects is vital. Any naming system is a scientific issue that must also work across different languages and cultures in order to support collaborative worldwide research and avoid confusion.

To make this possible, the IAU acts as a single arbiter of the naming process, and is advised and supported by astronomers within different fields. As an international scientific organisation, it dissociates itself entirely from the commercial practice of selling names of planets, stars or or even "real estate" on other planets or moons. These practices will not be recognised by the IAU and their alternative naming schemes cannot be adopted.


The IAU also acknowledged the increase in public interest and concern. Starting this year, the IAU Commission on 53 Extrasolar Planets and other IAU members will be consulted on the topic of having popular names for exoplanets.

UPDATE: Alan Stern, CEO of Uwingu, has responded. From "Stern said he takes issue with such statements. Uwingu has never maintained that the winning name will be anything other than a popular or common moniker, he says." More.


Image: IAU.

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