Czechs get the opportunity to name an exoplanet for the first time

Photo: archive of Czech Academy of Sciences

For the first time in history Czech citizens can come up with an official name for a star and planet outside our solar system. The opportunity comes as part of the 100 year anniversary of the International Astronomical Union, which has launched their worldwide NameExoWorlds campaign as part of the celebrations.

Photo: archive of Czech Academy of Sciences
Light years away from Earth, in the Lynx constellation, lies the star XO-5. It is circled by a gas giant that takes only four days to orbit its parent star, says astronomer Soňa Ehlerová from the Czech Academy of Sciences.

“XO-5 as a star is pretty similar to the sun, being of the same type [yellow dwarf].

“It is slightly less massive than the sun and slightly older. Its distance is about 870 light years from the sun. Its exoplanet, called XO-5b is of the type called ‘hot Jupiter’, which means it is a Jupiter-like planet which orbits the sun very closely.”

It may be a wildly rotating giant, but, just like its star, the planet bears a rather unremarkable name - XO-5b.

That is likely to change soon however, as Czech citizens have been asked to come up with a name for the two stellar objects.

The campaign is the brainchild of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a world-wide association of astronomers that is celebrating 100 years of existence.

But that is not the only reason, says Ms. Ehlerová.

“In the last decade, 4,000 known exoplanets have been discovered. It is a type of research, which is very attractive to everyone, not only scientists, but the general public as well.

“Therefore it seems appropriate that all people on Earth should have an opportunity to name some celestial object, some other distant world.”

The IAU has selected a solar system for each country in the world. More information on how to do so can be found on their website.

For Czechs, the process is simple. All they need to do is go on the webpage, where they can fill out a form asking what names they have chosen and why.

Curious about what names could come up, we went into Prague’s streets asking locals and foreigners alike how they would name their star and planet.

Photo: archive of Czech Academy of Sciences
Boy high-schooler: “Maybe ‘Felix’. I don’t know.”

Girl high-schooler: “Yeah! That sounds great actually.”

Boy high-schooler: “Maybe some connection to humanity, I don’t know.”

Have you got any ideas for the planet’s name?

Girl high-schooler: “Maybe, ‘Guardian’.”

Student: “It could be called ‘beer’ and ‘Slivovice’.”

‘Beer’ and ‘Slivovice’? Why?

Student: “Because that is typical for the Czech Republic.” (laughs)

Man: “I would call it all after Jágr.” (laughs)

So the star ‘Jaromír’ and the planet ‘Jágr’?

Man: “For example.”

While the name Jaromír Jágr would certainly leave an easily identifiable Czech imprint on the universe, Ms. Ehlerová says that one of the rules is that the objects cannot be named after living individuals.

The webpage lists criteria that have to be fulfilled, such as that the name cannot be insulting or longer than 16 characters. So any future name giver would do well to read through them.

Photo: archive of Czech Academy of Sciences
As for her own choice, Ms. Ehlerová says literature may serve as inspiration.

(laughs) "Well, there are some ideas I probably should not share. But, for example, we could think about great works of fiction, such as those by J. R. R. Tolkien.

“The star’s name could be Varda after his goddess which created the stars. For the planet the name could for example be Eärendil. It is not a Czech theme, but it is a celestial theme.”

The deadline for proposing names is the end of September.

A jury of experts will then nominate the final contenders, who will be subject to an online public vote.