Wednesday 16 December 2015

The International Astronomical Union recently held a vote to determine the names of a list of planets and stars in distant systems. It would be impossible to assign a name to every star and planet in the Galaxy - there are just too many of them - so they generally just get an alphanumerical designation. However, a few have accrued names from popular usage, and now a select group have had names officially assigned by the IAU, according to popular vote.

The full list is at the link, but some of my favourites include Thestias, the new name of the only known planet orbiting Pollux (Beta Geminorum), named for the epithet of Leda, the mother of Castor and Pollux (the Gemini twins) in Greek myth. The Mu Arae system has five known planets, named for characters from the Don Qixote story: Quijote, Dulcinea, Rocinante and Sancho, plus the star itself has received the common name Cervantes, after the author.

Another star, formerly known only as PSR 1257+12, has been named Lich, and undead being from myth, and its planets have been named in kind: Draugr, Phobetor (i.e. Nightmare) and Poltergeist! The well known Epsilon Eridani is now also called Ran, and its sole known planet is Aegir, named for two Jotnar from Norse myth. And a particular favourite planet of mine, Fomalhaut b, is now known as Dagon, after the Semitic deity (made famous in the modern era by H.P. Lovecraft).

The 55 Cancri system has been named in honour of great astronomers, with the star itself now called Copernicus, and its planets named Galileo, Brahe, Lippershey, Janssen, and Harriot, while Iota Draconis b has been named for the great Hypatia. Wonderful stuff.

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