Image: NASA. Front page image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The International Astronomical Union hasn't historically been a huge fan of letting the public give informal names to celestial objects. Back in March, the union rebuked the private company Uwingu for selling naming rights to Martian craters to anyone willing to pay up.
But despite its hardline approach to for-profit naming, the IAU seems to have recognized the public desire to be involved in this aspect of space exploration. That's why it announced NameExoWorlds—a crowdsourced contest to name up to 30 exoplanets.
"For the first time, in response to the public's increased interest in being part of discoveries in astronomy, the IAU is organizing a worldwide contest to give popular names to selected exoplanets along with their host stars," the IAU said in a press release.
But it's not as if the IAU will be auctioning off names the way Uwingu did. Only astronomy-related organizations and clubs will be able to register to submit names for consideration. The public won't be involved until March 2015, when the IAU will open the list of suggested names to votes.
"The intention is that millions of people worldwide will be able to take part in the vote," said the IAU. "Once the votes are counted, the winning names will be officially sanctioned by the IAU, allowing them to be used freely in parallel with the existing scientific nomenclature."
What a perfect opportunity to give the lucky astronomy clubs a little inspiration. Though there are rules about what kinds of names can be proposed—a 16-letter limit, no currently extant humans, no divisive political figures and so on—there are definitely a lot of names that immediately come to mind.
So without further delay, here is the Motherboard-approved list of 30 potential exoplanet names. Be sure to get in on the action and suggest your own.
Le Gentil (after Guillaume Le Gentil—bonus points for it translating into "The Nice")
Deep Space Ten
Planet of the Apez
Bruno (after Giordano Bruno, heretic extraordinaire)
And with that, I think we have duly proven why the IAU has been so hesitant to allow the public to name exoplanets (though Le Gentil, Hypatia, and Bruno could totally end up on the approved list). Good work, everyone! See you for post-work drinks on planet Steve.