The International Astronomical Union has issued a press release condemning the commercial efforts of private companies to issue names for exoplanets.


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Turf war! The International Astronomical Union has issued a press release condemning the commercial efforts of private companies to issue names for exoplanets.

Recently, an organisation has invited the public to purchase both nomination proposals for exoplanets, and rights to vote for the suggested names. In return, the purchaser receives a certificate commemorating the validity and credibility of the nomination. Such certificates are misleading, as these campaigns have no bearing on the official naming process — they will not lead to an officially-recognised exoplanet name, despite the price paid or the number of votes accrued.
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To make this possible, the IAU acts as a single arbiter of the naming process, and is advised and supported by astronomers within different fields. As an international scientific organisation, it dissociates itself entirely from the commercial practice of selling names of planets, stars or or even “real estate” on other planets or moons. These practices will not be recognised by the IAU and their alternative naming schemes cannot be adopted.

Well la-dee-da, how dare anyone else name anything ever in space!

The truth is, the IAU was originally given this function by astronomers to coordinate the naming of obscure astronomical objects, not to provide the official names for every object and feature that will ever be discovered in space. And though the IAU does tend to favor the choices of discoverers, it has in the past also ignored their wishes. (See for example my book Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, where the IAU rejected the names chosen by the Apollo 8 astronauts, even though those astronauts were the first to actually go and see these features.)

In the end, the names of important features in space will be chosen by those who live there.

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One comment

  • I can see a situation similar to the life sciences, where professionals identify life forms by their binomial names, but most everyone else calls them by their common names. And, like the life sciences, the discoverer should get naming rights. The IAU is setting itself up for irrelevancy.

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