This week the International Astronomical Union, long responsible for giving planets sexy names like "HD 189733b," surprised many by opening the process to the general public. Not surprisingly, there are some rules involved. (Sit down, Trekkies.)
This week the International Astronomical Union (IAU) announced that it would allow the general public to provide name suggestions for newly-discovered planets, reversing longstanding policy and surprising many in the astronomy community. Interested people can submit their favorites to an e-mail address, and if they meet the criteria set by the agency, they will be put into consideration, and may even be subject to a public vote. Some of those criteria include length, pronunciation, and source of origin: For example, names can only come from intellectual property if that property is in the public domain, ruling out many popular science fiction suggestions (for the time being).
What’s the Big Idea?
In a statement, the IAU cited the recent increased public interest in space as a reason for its policy change. Some of that interest was fueled by private planet-naming ventures, such as those launched by the SETI Institute and Uwingu earlier this year. Such campaigns have also been sanctioned, assuming they too follow established rules. Those rules provoked this comment from astronomer and Uwingu CEO Alan Stern: “Fundamentally it’s still about the public being subservient to IAU committees that pass on recommendations…Why should [they] be a traffic cop?”
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