A Planet By Any Other Name…

Dr. Scientist: Did you know GJ 1214 b is almost seven times as massive as Earth, and it orbits its parent star in less than two Earth days?  Or that the planets HD 200964 b and HD 200964 c are in a state of orbital resonance, meaning their orbital times can be expressed as a ratio of 4:3? And that the planet MOA-2007-BLG-192Lb…

James: Wait, what was the first one?

Dr. Scientist: PSR 1257 b.

James: No, the one you were talking about.

Dr. Scientist: Oh, you mean GJ 1214 b.

James: … I guess.

Dr. Scientist: I got confused.  I thought you meant what was the first exoplanet ever discovered.  That one’s called PSR 1257 b, and there’s another planet in the same system called PSR 1257 c.

James: Okay, that’s enough.  Why the [expletive deleted] don’t any of these planets have names?  Can’t someone at least make up nicknames?  Are we waiting for first contact with the people from HD 149026 b so we can ask them what they call HD 149026 b?

Dr. Scientist: It’s very unlikely anything lives on HD 149026 b.  The surface temperature is more than 2000 degrees Celsius.

James: How would I know that?  I don’t know the difference between HD 149026 b and HD 217107 b!  Look, what if, just for the sake of convenience, we all agreed to call HD 149026 b “Snooki,” and HD 217107 b “The Situation?”

Dr. Scientist: I’m not sure those names are scientifically accurate.

James: I don’t care!  It’s hard to have a conversation about exoplanets when they’re all named things like HD 802701 b!

Dr. Scientist: (chuckling) HD 802701 b?  There’s no planet by that name.

James: … I’m not talking to you anymore.

* * *

The International Astronomy Union, which is in charge of naming celestial objects, has not yet agreed on how planets outside the Solar System should be named.  At the moment, most exoplanets are named after the star they orbit followed by a lower case letter (b for the first planet found, c for the next one, and so on).  Some are named after the telescope used to detect them (the COROT Mission or the Kepler Mission, for example).

Sadly, this system often produces boring names for what is otherwise an exciting area of science.

P.S.: There are hundreds of known planets in our galaxy, and the list is growing.  What do you think we should call them?  Personally, I think Planet Pailly has a nice ring to it.

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