Launching in September 2019 and as part of the IAU Name ExoWorlds project, the UK will have the unique opportunity to name an exoplanet and its host star.
As part of their centenary celebrations, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) is organising a global competition Name Exoworlds that allows any country in the world to give a popular name to a selected exoplanet and its host star.
In recent years, astronomers have discovered thousands of planets and planetary systems orbiting around nearby stars. Some are small and rocky like the Earth, whilst others are gas giants like Jupiter.
It is now believed that most stars in the Universe could have planets orbiting them and that some of them may have physical characteristics that resemble those of the Earth. The sheer number of stars in the Universe, each potentially with orbiting planets, along with the ubiquity of pre-biotic compounds, suggests that extraterrestrial life may be likely.
What is an exoplanet?
The planets in our own solar system orbit around our star, the Sun. Planets that orbit around other stars are called exoplanets. They are very difficult to see directly with telescopes as an exoplanet is hidden by the brightness of the host star.
Astronomers use other means for detecting and studying these distant worlds, in particular by looking at the effects the exoplanets have on the host stars themselves.
WASP-13 and WASP-13b
The star and exoplanet given to the UK to name are WASP-13 and WASP-13b respectfully. Their current scientific designation arises from the fact they were discovered and investigated by the Wide Angle Search for Planets international consortium.
WASP-13 is a star in the Lynx constellation. It is similar to our Sun, in terms of metallicity and mass, although it is hotter and most likely older. The star is 505 light years from Earth.
WASP-13b is an exoplanet in the orbit of WASP-13. The planet is about a third of the mass of Jupiter, but with a radius 22% bigger than Jupiter’s . WASP-13 orbits very close to its host star at a distance equivalent to 5% of the distance between the Sun and Earth. It does one full orbit in only four days.
This exoplanet was discovered and reported upon in 2009 by an international team lead by British astronomers.
Further details and hypothetical animations can be found at the NASA Exoplanet Catalog .
Important competition information
From September to October 2019, schools and youth organisations only will propose names for the UK’s exoplanet and host star.
In October 2019, these suggested names will be reduced to a small number of finalist names by an expert panel.
A public vote
In November 2019, a public vote on these finalists will choose the new popular names, with the winner announced in December 2019.
Current competition partners
Please note that we are NOT accepting submissions until the competition opens in September 2019 and that names may only be submitted from schools or youth organisations.
It will NOT be possible to accept submissions from individuals.
Once the finalist names have been chosen by the expert panel, a public vote will take place to choose the popular names for both the exoplanet and its host star.
Professor Robert Walsh
UK IAU National Outreach Coordinator