Two new planetary systems already have Spanish names

Although there are trillions of stars ‘out there’ (our galaxy alone has between 100,000 and 400,000 million), only a few thousand of them (about 4,000) can be seen with the naked eye from Earth. And of those few thousand, only a small fraction, around 300, today have world-renowned names, most of them given by wise Arabs, Greeks and other ancient cultures.

However, the use of increasingly powerful telescopes has exponentially multiplied the number of stars known to mankind. Soon the number of stars was too large to assign a name to each of them, so stellar catalogs began to be drawn up, which, over time, adopted different numbering systems.

One of the most recent, the Guide Star Catalog II, prepared by experts at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, includes, and names one by one, almost a billion stars. A figure, by the way, that continues to increase day by day.

A complex task

The body that is in charge of assigning and controlling the official names of celestial bodies is the International Astronomical Union (IAU), and the truth is that its work has only become more and more complicated in recent decades. For example, some stars, observed at different times and in different parts of the world, are ‘repeated’ in several catalogs at the same time, in which they also appear with different names… Others, discovered years ago and ‘revisited’ with telescopes more modern, they have turned out not to be individual stars, as it seemed, but systems of two and even three different stars (Alpha Centauri, the closest to the Sun, is a good example of this).

And to make matters worse, since the mid-1990s, the stars began to be added to the planets that orbit them. Today, almost three decades after the official discovery of the first exoplanet (51 Pegasi b, announced on October 6, 1995 and later named Dimidium), the list of known worlds outside the Solar System already contains more than 5,000 individual members.

Again, too many to give each one its name, so the IAU chose to list them with their star designation followed by lowercase letters in alphabetical order, beginning with ‘b’, which is assigned to the nearest planet. to its sun, and following with ‘c’, ‘d’, ‘e’, ​​etc if the same star happened to have more than one world in orbit. For example, the star Trappist-1 (so named because it was the first discovered by the Trappist telescope), has seven known planets. The one closest to it was designated Trappist-1b, the next Trappist-1c, the next Trappist-1d, and so on until Trappist-1h was furthest from the star.

‘special’ planets

Just like the list of known stars, the list of new planets is also increasing day by day. But not all planets (or all stars) are the same, and some systems are ‘special’ for us, either because they are reminiscent of our own Solar System, or because some of their worlds show similarities to Earth, or because they stand out for some other reason.

For some years now, the IAU has believed that these special planetary systems deserve to have real names, and not complicated codes of letters and numbers that are often impossible to remember. For this reason, it has enabled a naming system, in which popular participation is allowed, to assign names to planetary systems that have special relevance.

The process is organized by calls that include sets of planetary systems considered ‘special’. Just a year ago, in 2022, the UAI commissioned its Office for the Popularization of Astronomy (OAO) to organize a contest called Name ExoWorlds 2022 to name 20 extrasolar planetary systems. The proposed names had to be compatible with the objectives of the Decade of Indigenous Languages ​​(2022-2032) declared by the United Nations Organization.

In this way, each OAO national node was in charge of selecting and ordering the proposals received in their country. The Spanish node received 22 valid proposals, and selected the three that it considered most appropriate. And now, the UAI has chosen two of them, from Euskadi and Mallorca, which means that from now on these two cultures will be represented in the names of two star systems in our galaxy.

Rendering of the hot super-Earth GJ 86b, newly named ‘Su’

‘Gar’ and ‘Su’, the Basque proposal

In the constellation of Virgo, the star GJ 486 is a small red dwarf that is 27 light years from the Sun. GJ 486b orbits around it, a rocky planet three times larger than Earth and discovered from Spain, thanks to the spectrograph Cármenes of the Calar Alto Observatory, in Almería. With a surface temperature of about 430ºC, models predict its landscape to resemble that of Venus, dry, hot and dotted with fiery rivers of lava. From now on, the star will be called ‘Gar’ and its planet ‘Su’, words that in Basque mean ‘flame’ and ‘fire’ and that refer to the Basque expression ‘su eta gar’ (fire and flame), which denotes passion and enthusiasm. The proposing team, headed by Itziar Garate-Lopez, created the Gar+Su portal to promote their candidacy.

‘Filetdor’ and ‘Catalineta’, the Majorcan proposal

The proposal of a team headed by Sebastiá Barceló Forteza to assign names in Catalan to a planetary system was the second of those accepted by the UAI. This time it is the star WASP-166, in the constellation of Hydra and 370 light years away. The planet in this system, WASP-166 b, is a gas giant with a mass half that of Jupiter. The star will receive the name ‘Filetdor’, a golden sea serpent who stars in an old Mallorcan fable, while the planet will be known as ‘Catalineta’, the little girl who, in the same fable, meets the serpent and lives a amazing adventure. This candidacy was also promoted from a website: Es nostro cel.

The third proposal selected by the Spanish node of the OAO, promoted by Antonio Quesada Ramos and his team, suggested the Arabic names ‘Al Andalus’ (the medieval name of Spain) and ‘Al Hamra’ (original name of the Alhambra, which literally means ‘the red one’) for the same system that finally received the Basque denominations.

The names of these planetary systems are thus linked to those of the stars ‘Cervantes’ and ‘Rosaliadecastro’, with their respective planets (‘Quijote’, ‘Dulcinea’, ‘Rocinante’ and ‘Sancho’ for the former, and ‘Riosar’ for the second), who received their designations in previous editions of the Name ExoWorlds contest.

By Editor

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