Astronomers aren’t normally known for being the most creative bunch when naming celestial objects. They stick to catalog/mission designations that involve an oftentimes convoluted or boring mixture of letters and numerals. That’s why many common names for our favorite deep-sky targets get their monikers from the non-Ph.D.s who enjoy them.
Recognizing the public’s creativity, scientists with Uwingu, a company dedicated to raising funds for scientific projects through crowdfunding scenarios, opened the People’s Choice contest last month to invite the world to name our nearest exoplanet neighbor, currently cataloged as Alpha Centauri Bb. For just $4.99, anyone can nominate a new name for the Earth-like world, and everyone else can vote on already-submitted names for just $0.99. Uwingu will recognize all submitters whose suggested name receives more than 100 votes, and the winner at the end of the contest will receive a call from Unwingu CEO and planetary scientist Alan Stern and Uwingu advisor/planet hunter Geoff Marcy, a signed plaque commemorating the name, and a yearlong subscription to Astronomy magazine.
But time is running out. The contest closes Monday, April 15. It might be too late to start with a name from scratch and get your friends and family to buy enough votes to make it a contender, but it’s absolutely not too late to influence the outcome. The top three names right now are Rakhat (from Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow), Amara (“eternal” and/or “beloved” in various languages), and Heinlein (for American science-fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein). Which one do you like?
The proceeds from the contest will go to an important need. “We’ve decided that all of The Uwingu Fund dollars we generate from the People's Choice contest to see what names the public suggests and votes to the top for the Earth-like planet around Alpha Centauri B will go to grant funds for space educators hit by NASA's sequestration cysts on education and public outreach," Stern says.
To help out this vital group and help give Alpha Centauri Bb a more attractive moniker, vote now at www.uwingu.com.