Welcome to a special A to Z Challenge edition of Sciency Words! Sciency Words is an ongoing series here on Planet Pailly about the definitions and etymologies of science or science-related terms. In today’s post, Q is for:
The International Astronomy Union (I.A.U.) still seems to think they were right about the whole Pluto thing. However, they also seem to realize that they made a mistake in being so very dismissive of public opinion on the matter, and they’ve been trying to do a better job with public outreach since then.
To that end, in 2014 the I.A.U. announced a partnership with Zooniverse, and they enlisted the general public in the process of assigning official names to exoplanets. As stated in this I.A.U. press release:
For the first time, in response to the public’s increased interest in being part of discoveries in astronomy, the International Astronomy Union (IAU) is organizing a worldwide contest to give popular names to selected exoplanets along with their host stars.
Now the I.A.U. already had a system in place for naming exoplanets, but that system produced “names” like HD 219134g, or KOI-4427b, or PSR 1257+12c. There are astronomers who can rattle off this alphanumeric gobbledygook with ease, but I have a tough time with it. As Doctor Who once said about planets: “I’m terribly old-fashioned. I prefer names.”
But of course letting the general public decide these sorts of things doesn’t always go well. The I.A.U. did not want something like the Boaty McBoatface scenario to happen to some poor planet.
So the official process was that astronomy clubs and non-profit astronomy organizations (i.e.: people who would take this seriously) got to submit names, and then an I.A.U. committee picked the best options and put those up for a vote.
Quijote—as in Don Quijote (or Don Quixote, as it’s spelled in English) of the famous Spanish novel—was one of the winners. According to Wikipedia, Quijote was initially thought to have a highly eccentric orbit, but after we learned more about the planet, it turned out its orbit was not as eccentric as it first seemed. I’m not super familiar with the Don Quijote story, but from what I’ve heard the name seems fitting.
In that same I.A.U. naming contest, Quijote’s star got the name Cervantes, in honor of the author of Don Quijote, and all the other known planets in the system were named after other characters from the book. As for astrobiological interest in Quijote, the planet does lie within Cervantes’ Goldilocks zone; however, Quijote is a gas giant, so it’s E.S.I. score must be quite low.
Still, it’s conceivable that Quijote might have Earth-like moons. So as we continue our quixotic search for alien life, Quijote might not be a bad place to check.
Next time on Sciency Words A to Z, could it be that we really are alone in the universe?
P.S.: Scattered disk object (225088) 2007 OR10 is currently the largest unnamed object in the Solar System. If you’d like to vote on what the I.A.U. should name it, click here.
P.P.S.: I cast my vote for “Holle,” the only female name on the ballot, because I think we need more female representation in the cosmos.