This is a mighty large universe. Somebody has got to name all the far-flung planets in it. Maybe that should be you.
It'll cost you almost five bucks to do it, but, hey, it's all in the name of science and, oh yeah, there will be prizes for the best new planetary names.
Last August, a group of astronomers, planetary scientists, former space program executives and educators came together to form a space-themed company called Uwingu (which means "sky" in Swahili). Their purpose is to generate projects to raise money for space exploration research and education.
Generally, when new planets are discovered, they're given technical-sounding titles, like Kepler-42c, WASP-19b, OGLE-TR-56b, Qatar-1b, etc.
The triple-star system of Alpha Centauri, at 4.3 light-years away from Earth, is our nearest cosmic neighbor. Last October, astronomers announced in the journal Nature the discovery of a planet in that system about the same size as Earth. It was designated by the astronomical term of Alpha Centauri Bb.
"Alpha Centauri Bb is a fine designation for us astronomers, but let's face it -- it's a little boring," astronomer and Uwingu CEO Alan Stern said in a statement. "Let's see what the people of planet Earth would want to name their nearest planetary cousin.
"This is a new way for the people of Earth, of every age, of every nation, of every walk of life to personally connect to space discoveries, and to help fund space research and education in the process," Stern added.
To generate more public interest and funds for further research, Uwingu has launched a contest to come up with a more likable name for Alpha Centauri Bb. Anyone can participate in what will become the first planetary baby name book.
So far, names that have been submitted include (one for each letter of the alphabet): Adalia, Bakich, Carbonia, Degenhardt, Enkidu, Fanelia, Ghandi, Heinlein, Ionus, Jodrell, Kepler, Lanador, Mandella, Namaste, Outpost, Pantheon, Queloz, Requiem, Serenity, Thanagar, Uhuru, Vulcan, Wookiee, Xenorbia, Yoda, Zappa.
Give you any ideas? If you want to add your name to the mix, it'll cost $4.99. But if you'd just like to go through the list of names already submitted and vote for your favorites, it'll run $0.99 per vote.
This first name-a-planet contest ends on April 15. And, oh yes, there will also be runner-up prizes. Prizes include:
- A signed plaque commemorating the name and its namer
- Your picture on the Uwingu website alongside the winning name you chose
- A free 12-month subscription to Astronomy magazine
- Uwingu gift certificates
While many names have been generated, and there'll be many leftover ones, don't worry if your name doesn't get picked this time around. Nearly 800 exoplanets have been discovered so far and several thousand "planet candidates" are just waiting to be officially designated as real worlds in our corner of the Milky Way galaxy.
That's a lot of upcoming names to generate.