Tau Boötis b

Tau Boötis b

NASA/G. Bacon (STScI/AVL)/Wikimedia Commons

Aah, that’s a heavenly name for a planet

CAMBRIDGE, U.K.—With roughly 2000 exoplanets confirmed and more added every month, the problem of providing names for these orbiting bodies outside our solar system is becoming pressing.

The scientific monikers such as OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb just aren’t going to cut it. So the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which has the responsibility of naming heavenly bodies, held a competition. And today it announced the results—names for 14 stars and 31 planets around them.

IAU sought suggestions from astronomy organizations—including observing clubs, schools, universities, and planetariums—and then asked the public to vote on 274 names. More than half-a-million votes were cast. The winners include names of mythological creatures from many cultures, famous scientists, fictional characters, ancient cities, and words from extinct languages.

Mysteriously, the winning name for one star, Tau Boötis, was withdrawn from the competition because, the IAU statement says, it “was judged not to conform with the IAU rules for naming exoplanets.” Seven pairs of names were on the slate for Tau Boötis and its planet, Tau Boötis b, but it’s not clear which names won and why the star name was ruled unsuitable. No word on how residents of Tau Boötis b can register their objections to IAU’s decision.