Name your own planet.


For decades, the names given to newly discovered planets have almost always failed to live up to the excitement these celestial finds represent. (Take for example forgettable monikers such as CFBDSIR2149, HD 189733b, 55 Cancri e, and Kepler-69c.) The organization that oversee’s the naming of new planets, the International Astronomical Union (IAU), knows that these titles are the opposite of cool and catchy. And thankfully, something is being done about it — the IAU is moving away from leaving selective working groups to name planets and opening up the process to the public.

Unsurprisingly, there are a few rules that the IAU imposed on the new process. Proposed names must be 16 characters or less, and preferably one word. The Paris-based group asks that names are pronounceable in as many languages as possible, and not offensive in any language or culture. The group also says that submissions should be “not too similar to an existing name of an astronomical object,” such as another planet, or named dwarf planets, stars, and solar systems. Using a pet name or a name that is “purely or principally commercial in nature” is also forbidden, the IAU says.

So how do you actually suggest a name? The IAU has set up an email address for that: Submissions will “be handled on a case-by-case basis, with advice given on the best way to proceed,” the organization says. And, in case you’re wondering, it’s the IAU who will be sifting through public input and selecting the best names. The group also reserves the right to open things up to a public vote, as it did in July in the christening of Pluto’s fourth and fifth moons, Kerberos and Styx. Among the names the IAU shot down: Vulcan.

Name that moon


Want to name Pluto’s two tiniest moons? Then you’ll need to dig deep into mythology. Astronomers announced a contest last week to name the two itty-bitty moons of Pluto discovered during the past two years.

Pluto is the Roman equivalent of the Greek Hades, lord of the underworld, and its three bigger moons have related mythological names: Charon, the ferryman of Hades; Nix for the night goddess; and the multiheaded monster Hydra. The two unnamed moons need similarly shady references. Right now, they go by the bland titles of P4 and P5.

Online voting will end Feb. 25. Twelve choices are available at the Web site Among the choices: Hercules, the hero who slew Hydra; Obol, the coin put in the mouths of the dead as payment to Charon; Cerebrus, the three-headed dog guarding the gates of the underworld; Orpheus, the musician and poet who used his talents to get his wife, Eurydice, out of the underworld only to lose her by looking back; and Styx, the river to the underworld. The vote tally is updated hourly.

Select your favorite name, or even better, come up with your own!.