Thanks to a worldwide vote, 14 stars in our universe and 31 exoplanets that orbit them now have new names. The International Astronomical Union — the reigning authority on naming celestial bodies throughout the cosmos — released the winners of its NameExoWorlds contest today. More than half a million votes helped to decide the winners, which include such inventive titles as Chalawan, Cervantes, and Helvetios.
The competition challenged astronomy organizations, schools, and citizen scientists across the globe to come up with new titles for a preapproved list of stars and exoplanets. Normally, the IAU decides the names for these celestial bodies without much input from the public, but the NameExoWorlds contest was the first opportunity for people who aren't part of the organization to have a say in what exoplanets are called. It's also the first time in hundreds of years that the IAU has asked for public input on new names for stars.
People couldn't submit just any name for consideration
The names all take the form of mythological creatures from various international cultures, as well as famous scientists, fictional characters, ancient cities, or words from dead languages. For example, a star with the previously cumbersome names of 55 Cancri will now be called Copernicus, thanks to a submission from the Royal Netherlands Association for Meteorology and Astronomy in honor of the Polish astronomer. And two of the planets that orbit Copernicus shed their unimaginative labels of 55 Cancri b and 55 Cancri c to take on the names of noted astronomers Galileo and Brahe, respectively. These and the other winning names all received approval from the IAU, and will now become part of the existing astronomical nomenclature, with the organizations getting credit (and bragging rights) for their proposals.
People couldn't submit just any name for consideration in the contest. The IAU has guidelines for how to name these intergalactic objects. For instance, exoplanets must have a pronounceable one-word name that's less than 16 characters in length, and they can't be anything offensive. People also couldn't send in names of pets, living individuals, or anything associated with political, military, or religious activities.
Within these guidelines, more than 274 proposed ExoWorld names were submitted by organizations from 45 different countries. Then, a total of 573,242 votes from people in 182 countries around the world decided which names they liked best. The total list of winners can be found here, and the rest of the proposed names can be found on the IAU's website. Sadly, the names Ninja and Starry Bunnies didn't make the cut.