Science

Competition launched to name the 20 exoplanets that the James Webb Space Telescope is set to study

Forget Boaty McBoatface, your chance to name an alien world has finally arrived!

An international competition has been launched to name 20 exoplanets that will be studied by the James Webb Space Telescope. 

The International Astronomical Union (IAU), that is responsible for all naming in space, is holding the contest to mark the 10th anniversary of its Office for Astronomy Outreach. 

To enter, participants must form a team of scientists, amateur astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts.

The group must then plan and stage an outreach event aimed at educating the public about exoplanets.

The team can then choose their exoplanetary system to name, including both the planet and the star it orbits, then enter their proposal online.

All names will go through a selection process by a panel including IAU officials and the exoplanet discoverers.

Exoplanets are planets that orbit stars other than the sun, and most of them are only referred to by their scientific designations. Pictured: The 20 exoplanetary systems to be named in the competition, that are among the first targets of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

Proposed names 'should be of things, people, or places of long-standing cultural, historical, or geographical significance, worthy of being assigned to a celestial object'. It could be related to astronomy, the sky or a constellation that the exoplanetary system is a part of, or be drawn from an indigenous language. Pictured: The exoplanet WASP-107b

Proposed names ‘should be of things, people, or places of long-standing cultural, historical, or geographical significance, worthy of being assigned to a celestial object’. It could be related to astronomy, the sky or a constellation that the exoplanetary system is a part of, or be drawn from an indigenous language. Pictured: The exoplanet WASP-107b

THE EXOPLANETARY SYSTEMS TO BE NAMED IN THE COMPETITION 

The following host stars/exoplanets are to be named in the competition. 

Their scientific designations will not be replaced, but each system will be gaining an official public name.

  • GJ_1214/GJ_1214b
  • GJ_3470/GJ_3470b
  • GJ_367/GJ_367b
  • GJ_436/GJ_436b
  • HAT-P-12/HAT-P-12b
  • HAT-P-26/HAT-P-26b
  • HATS-72/HATS-72b
  • HD_95086/HD_95086b
  • HIP_65426/HIP_65426b
  • L_168-9 / TOI-134/L_168-9b / TOI-134b
  • LHS_3844 / TOI-136/LHS_3844b / TOI-136b
  • LTT_9779 / TOI-193/LTT_9779b / TOI-193b
  • WASP-121/WASP-121b
  • WASP-166/WASP-166b
  • WASP-19/WASP-19b
  • WASP-43/WASP-43b
  • WASP-63/WASP-63b
  • WASP-69/WASP-69b
  • WD_0806-661/WD_0806-661_B
  • Wolf_437 / GJ_486 / TOI-1827/Wolf_437b / GJ_486b / TOI-1827b

Exoplanets are planets that orbit stars other than the sun, and over 5,000 have been identified since they were first discovered three decades ago.

Most of them are only referred to by their scientific designations and do not have any relation to any cultural context.

The IAU has been in charge of cataloguing celestial objects since it was created in 1919, and infamously downgraded Pluto to a dwarf planet in 2006.

In 2015 and 2019 it held competitions to name certain stars and exoplanets, and is now hosting its third called NameExoWorlds 2022.

The 20 exoplanets in the competition are among the first targets of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

The $10 billion (£7.4 billion) observatory was launched in December 2021 to study distant stars and planets with its four suites of onboard instruments.

This includes the atmospheres of exoplanets, to search for the building blocks of life elsewhere in the universe. 

Its first set of photos were released last month, that included an atmospheric analysis of an exoplanet named WASP-96b, but more have since been discovered.

Unfortunately, even JWST cannot get a close-up of an exoplanet, as they’re too far away. 

NameExoWorlds 2022 is a collaboration between the Executive Committee Working Group on Exoplanetary Systems Nomenclature and the IAU Office for Astronomy Outreach.

They invite anyone in the world to form a team that can together propose a new name for one of the exoplanets and the star it orbits.

The team must put on an outreach event that can educate the public on exoplanets and related topics, like the possibility of otherworldly life.

This could involve direct hands-on engagement, public lectures or online interactions. 

Teams can then select the names of one planet and its host star – the ‘exoworld – which can be the result of a vote between team members.

They can then fill in an online form to submit their name proposal along with details of their outreach event.

The first set of photos from JWST were released last month, that included an atmospheric analysis of an exoplanet named WASP-96b (pictured)

The first set of photos from JWST were released last month, that included an atmospheric analysis of an exoplanet named WASP-96b (pictured)

JWST analysed the atmosphere of a giant planet outside our solar system called WASP-96 b — a giant gas located nearly 1,150 light-years from Earth which orbits its star every 3.4 days

JWST analysed the atmosphere of a giant planet outside our solar system called WASP-96 b — a giant gas located nearly 1,150 light-years from Earth which orbits its star every 3.4 days

The IAU have put forward a strict set of naming rules, to ensure that things do not go the way of 2016 vote to name a scientific research ship, where ‘Boaty McBoatface’ was the winner.

The names ‘should be of things, people, or places of long-standing cultural, historical, or geographical significance, worthy of being assigned to a celestial object’.

It could be related to astronomy, the sky or a constellation that the exoplanetary system is a part of, or be drawn from an indigenous language.

The planet and host star must follow a common naming theme, and the entrants must create a video presentation explaining their decision.

Names of real people, living or dead, trademarks, organisations and pets are not allowed, and submissions will be accepted up until November 11. 

Entries will be separated by country, and one candidate along with two backups will be chosen to represent them by national IAU panels.

The overall winners will be selected for each exoplanetary system by an international selection committee that includes the exoplanet discoverer.

They will be selected ‘based on the description and meaning behind the names provided, and the outreach activities accomplished by each teams’.

Debra Elmegreen, IAU President, said: ‘It is exciting to have a new NameExoWorlds competition underway to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Office for Astronomy Outreach. 

‘Their work over the past decade has had a global impact, and this competition is yet another way to bring people together through astronomy.’

 The results will be announced on March 20 2023.

The James Webb Telescope: NASA’s $10 billion telescope is designed to detect light from the earliest stars and galaxies

The James Webb telescope has been described as a ‘time machine’ that could help unravel the secrets of our universe.

The telescope will be used to look back to the first galaxies born in the early universe more than 13.5 billion years ago, and observe the sources of stars, exoplanets, and even the moons and planets of our solar system.

The vast telescope, which has already cost more than $7 billion (£5 billion), is considered a successor to the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope

The James Webb Telescope and most of its instruments have an operating temperature of roughly 40 Kelvin – about minus 387 Fahrenheit (minus 233 Celsius).

It is the world’s biggest and most powerful orbital space telescope, capable of peering back 100-200 million years after the Big Bang.

The orbiting infrared observatory is designed to be about 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA likes to think of James Webb as a successor to Hubble rather than a replacement, as the two will work in tandem for a while. 

The Hubble telescope was launched on April 24, 1990, via the space shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

It circles the Earth at a speed of about 17,000mph (27,300kph) in low Earth orbit at about 340 miles in altitude. 


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