Cultures around the world have long made connections with objects in the natural world by giving them names in their native tongues. Many civilisations have developed their own stories, mythologies, and cultural contexts around specks of light in the heavens above. Through these connections we eventually found our place among the stars. This is the story of how astronomy came to be among the earliest of the disciplines we now call science, and the beginning of humanity’s eternal quest to understand the Universe around us.
When the IAU was created in 1919, one of the tasks delegated to the professional astronomers was to catalogue celestial objects and provide consistent conventions for naming them. Advances in science and technology have recently enabled us to detect a new category of celestial object, called exoplanets — planets orbiting other stars. The first exoplanets were discovered just three decades ago and over 5000 have been identified since. Most of these planets are only referred to by their scientific designations and have no connections to our stories and cultures.
Reflecting the truly international interest in astronomy, the first NameExoWorlds competition, in 2015, named 19 ExoWorlds (14 stars and 31 exoplanets orbiting them), with over half a million votes from 182 countries and territories. In 2019, as part of the IAU’s centennial celebrations, the 2019 NameExoWorlds competition offered every country the chance to name one planetary system, comprising an exoplanet and its host star. As part of this contest, 112 countries organised national campaigns that involved the direct participation of over 780 000 people worldwide.
The systems to be named by NameExoWorlds 2022 are of special interest, as they are among the first exoplanet targets of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). This international space observatory, led by NASA with its partners, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency, had its first light in July 2022. The exoplanets have been discovered through a mix of techniques, mostly via the transit method and direct imaging.
NameExoWorlds 2022 is a collaboration between the Executive Committee Working Group on Exoplanetary Systems Nomenclature and the IAU Office for Astronomy Outreach. In this edition, the IAU wishes to bring together the public, amateur astronomers and exoplanetary scientists and together to name this new set of available exoworlds. Anyone, including students and teachers, astronomy enthusiasts, amateur astronomers and exoplanetary scientists, may form a team and propose names for 20 exoplanetary systems, each of which consists of one known exoplanet and its host star.
How can you participate?
Create a team composed of students and teachers, astronomy enthusiasts, amateurs astronomers and exoplanetary scientists;
Create and implement an outreach event related to exoplanets. This could be one of the following, but not limited to: An event aimed to educate the public about exoplanets, their discovery and significance, the possibility of life elsewhere, etc. The outreach activities could involve direct hands-on engagement, public lectures, or online interactions.
The teams are free to choose their method of selecting the name to be submitted in the proposal. They could, for example, incorporate voting from participants after the outreach event or have the voting done separately beforehand and announce the chosen name as part of the outreach event.
Register your team and submit your name proposal (written format + video) (via this form).
For any additional questions and inquiries, contact firstname.lastname@example.org