The Name The Exoplanets contest is over, and today the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has announced new common names for a number of planets outside of our own solar system. The planets in question will still retain their scientific names, but for common usage the IAU is hoping that their selections will become standard.

The contest began in July 2014, with the general public encouraged to submit possible names for exoplanets that had already been discovered. The public was then asked to vote for candidate names, with the winning names then being assigned by the IAU to appropriate planets. And in spite of early fears that certain special interest groups were hijacking the process, and in spite of some odd and inappropriate names getting a large number of votes early on, in the end the community at large selected some great names. Over 500,000 votes were cast, with representation from 182 different countries, making this a truly global effort. (The IAU did have to use their veto power to remove one as yet undisclosed name from the list, but they won't say what it was). 

Among the highlights, the first exoplanet system ever discovered, a fast spinning stellar remnant known as PSR 1257+12, has been dubbed Lich in honour of the mythical undead sorcerers and appropriate for a dead star that continues to expel beams of energy. Its three rocky planets have been dubbed Poltergeist, Phobetor, and Draugr after three different mythical ghosts.

I was a little disappointed thought that the lone known planet orbiting the star Pollux was named Thestias, after the grandfather of Pollux. In my opinion since the star is dominant, the planet should be named for a lover or a child. Unfortunately the suggestion of Leda, which is more appropriate for Pollux, was rejected as there is already a Jovian moon and a comet named for Leda.

And Pegasi 51, which is a regular star and which hosts several exoplanets, has now been named Helvetios after a Celtic tribe that lives in the Swiss alps near where the stars planet was first observed. And that planet, Pegasi 51b, being half the mass of Jupiter, will be known as Dimidium, Latin for half.

However the winning entries were not just mythical beings, gods, and ancient tribes. Some very well known astronomers and scientists have also been honour today, with the star 55 Cancri now being known as Copernicus, and its orbiting planets will be called  Galileo, Brahe, Lippershey,Janssen, and Harriot. And it is nice to see the planet iota Draconis b named Hypatia in honour of the ancient Greek astronomer and mathematician.

And from the world of literature, star Mu Arae will now be known as Cervantes after the Spanish author, and  Dulcinea, Rocinante, Quijote and Sancho - all characters created by Cervantes - are the new names for its planets. 

I do like the renaming of 42 Draconis to Fafnir, the famous dragon of myth and opera, although I am not sure why calling an orbiting planet Orbitar was permitted. And I hesitate to think of the jokes that will be made by academics about the star HD81688 being dubbed Intercrus, which is Latin for "between the legs" and refers to the stars position in the crotch of the constellation Ursus Major (the she-bear).

Regardless, these are now the official unofficial names form these stars, planets, and other objects. The full list can be viewed here, and that is still only a tiny fraction of what is left out there to be discovered and named. Whether the public will accept them, only time will tell.