For years, the catalog of planets beyond our solar system has been filling up. There are the rocky, Earth-sized planets, the Jupiter-like gas giants, and every size between, from mini-Neptunes to super-Earths.
The hunt for these exoplanets is a scientific project that easily captures the public imagination because it holds the tantalizing prospect that there are other habitable worlds out there. But despite the curiosity-stoking quest, the names of the exoplanets identified have, up until now, been anything but evocative. They are known by dry scientific labels such as HD 185269 b, Kepler-20f, or Gliese 581b.
No longer. This month, the International Astronomical Union, the nearly century-old organization that gives names to celestial objects, announced plans to crowdsource the naming of new planets and their suns, announcing a contest to Name ExoWorlds.
Naturally — as might be expected when it comes to determining the names of a whole other world — there is a long list of rules and restrictions. Keep it to one word, keep it pronounceable, keep it tasteful, and no pet names, please. For full guidelines on how to name a planet and how not to, see the full rules.
There are 305 exoplanets in 260 solar systems on the list, ranging from iota Draconis b, weighing in at some 2,800 times more massive than Earth, to the rather more slight GJ 436 b in the constellation Leo.
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