The Public Got to Name 45 New Exoplanets and Stars


An artist’s concept of the exoplanet Kepler-452b, a “super-Earth." Image Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

The International Astronomical Union is the world’s utmost authority in naming celestial bodies, but in August, the organization turned the reins over to the public, allowing people to vote to name a handful of planets for the first time. The IAU announced the results of its NameExoWorlds contest today, giving new monikers to 14 stars and 31 exoplanets in their orbits. 

“The newly adopted names take the form of different mythological figures from a wide variety of cultures from across history, as well as famous scientists, fictional characters, ancient cities and words selected from bygone languages,” the IAU noted in its press release.

New exoplanet and star names include Hypatia (the female Greek scientist); Meztli (an Atzec moon deity); Majriti (the Arab astronomer); Cervantes (the Spanish writer); Quijote (his most famous character); and Poltergeist ("run to the light!"). You can see them all here

The contest, which ran from August until the end of October, received more than half a million votes sent in from 182 countries and territories around the world. The people who proposed the winning names will get a plaque for their insight.

The IAU’s naming committee validated all the choices selected by voters after the contest ended. They nixed one proposed exoplanet name, tau Boötis, because it didn’t conform to the organization’s rules for naming. It’s not the first time the public has been disappointed by the intricacies of international planet-naming bureaucracy. In 2013, voters were disappointed to learn that one of Pluto’s moons couldn’t be named Vulcan—a choice that garnered more than 174,000 votes in a public poll—because a hypothetical planet already had that name. Instead, the dwarf planet’s two smallest moons were named Kerberos and Styx, voted second and third.