The University of Leicester and Leicester Mercury have joined forces to give the people of city and county the opportunity to name their own planet.
Professor Martin Barstow, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Head of the College of Science & Engineering, Professor of Astrophysics and Space Science and President, Royal Astronomical Society, has registered the University in an International Astronomical Union (IAU) competition which invites groups to name newly discovered worlds.
The organisation (which is the official planetary naming body) has invited people to offer suggestions for naming 20 planetary bodies – mainly located by Nasa’s Kepler space satellite.
In partnership with the Leicester Mercury, Professor Barstow is asking members of the public to put their ideas forward, which he will submit on behalf of the University.
The planet that people are being asked to name has the working title gamma Cephei b. It resides some 45 light years away in the constellation of the King and orbits a 6.6 billion-year-old star named, Errai.
Professor Barstow said: “Just twenty years ago, we hadn’t discovered any planets outside our Solar System. Now we have this tremendously exciting opportunity to suggest names for these galactic neighbours.
“Suggestions can come from individuals or groups and we are looking for your best ideas.
“Suggestions need to follow the basic rules of the competition, but we are particularly looking for inspiring and meaningful names that will resonate with people across the world.”
The rules outlining the types of names people can offer can be found in a panel below.
The deadline for readers to email their ideas, as well as an explanation of why that name has been submitted, is May 18.
Once all the names are in, Professor Barstow and a panel of judges will then pick the best three proposals and readers will be given the opportunity to vote for their favourite in an online poll on the Mercury’s website.
The poll will close on May 29, and the name with the most votes will be submitted as the University’s entry.
The IAU will then judge it against ideas from other groups based around the world and reveal gamma Cephei b’s new name sometime in August.
A spokesman for the IAU said: “Although people have been naming celestial objects for millennia, the IAU has the task of assigning scientifically recognised names to newly discovered celestial bodies by its member countries.
“The NameExoWorlds contest provides not only the first opportunity for the public to name exoplanets, but also, for the first time in centuries, to give popular names to some stars — those that have known exoplanets in orbit around them.”
Email your entries to with the title NAME A PLANET in the subject box.
Please include contact details and an explanation about why that name has been chosen.
What names can be submitted?
1) Proposed names should be
• 16 characters or less in length.
• Preferably one word.
• Pronounceable (in some language)
• Non-offensive
• Not too similar to an existing name of an astronomical object
2) In addition it is not allowed to propose:
• Names of pet animals
• Names of a purely or principally commercial nature
• Names of individuals, places or events principally known for political, military or religious activities
• Names of living individuals
3) Only names that are not protected by trademarks or other forms of intellectual property claims may be proposed.
4) The decision of the IAU, via its Executive Committee Working Group on Public Naming of Planets and Planetary Satellites, on the names to be offered for general public vote is done based on the IAU Exoplanet Naming Theme and is final.
5) It is understood that the winning public names, after the general public vote, will not replace the scientific designations, but will be recognised by the IAU as the appropriate publicly used name for the object(s), and be publicised as such, along with due credit to the organisation that proposed it. This public name may then be used internationally along with, or instead of, the scientific designation, permanently and without restrictions.
About Errai and gamma Cephei b
Errai which means shepherd is the fourth brightest star in the constellation Cepheus (the King).
The colossal nuclear furnace is bright enough to been seen with the naked eye and sits close to Polaris (the north star).
Because of the way the Earth’s axis changes over time, and the precession of the equinoxes, Errai will one day become the north star, in about AD3000.
Its planet, gamma Cephei b – which readers are being asked to name – is nearly a billion times fainter than its host star and was only discovered in 2003, after years of measurements.
However, scientist had predicted its existence as early as 1988, which if confirmed back then, would make it the first exoplanet ever discovered.
Its orbit around Errai takes just under two years travelling at a speed of about 25 km/s
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