Pay $5 to nominate an exoplanet name?

I guess it’s not surprising that someone would find a way to monetize the exoplanet craze. A startup named Uwingu will now charge you $4.99 for the chance to nominate a name for an exoplanet (plus a downloadable certificate). Not a specific exoplanet, mind you. No, they’re simply compiling “a baby book of names” for astronomers to consult, should they choose to.

That’s right, there’s no guarantee that your suggestion will ever be used, and since it’s not associated with any particular planet, no chance for you to make it suit the planet’s characteristics. (That makes the baby-name analogy more apt, actually, since most parents choose names before the child is born.)

But if so, why should Uwingu get to collect $4.99 for it? And what will they do with the funds?

“Our goal is to award up to half of all Uwingu’s proceeds to The Uwingu Fund, which will provide grants to scientists and educators to conduct space research, education and exploration projects,” says Uwingu. Their first call for grant applications will happen in mid-2013.

But wait, there’s more!

You can pay them $0.99 to cast a vote for the best name, a contest that closes on April 22. Just $0.99 for each vote! What happens to the winning name? They want to assign it to Alpha Centauri Bb, but since they have no authority over official naming, nothing will actually happen. It would be like a band of people deciding to rename New York to be “The Big Apple.” Sure, you can use the name colloquially, but no one’s going to start changing road signs or the name over City Hall or birth records.

So far they’ve received 1230 nominations and 4933 votes, or $11,021. The most popular name is currently Rakhat.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU), which oversees the offical naming of astronomical bodies, is apparently not on board with this at all.

“Such certificates are misleading, as these campaigns have no bearing on the official naming process — they will not lead to an officially-recognised exoplanet name, despite the price paid or the number of votes accrued.”

Uwingu CEO Dr. Alan Stern stated, “This is a first step in democratizing planet naming.” . . . which should be democratic why?

Far be it from me to dissuade any popularizing of science and astronomy. But this seems overly opportunistic, reminiscent of those “Name a Star” scams (check out some words of wisdom from the IAU). It would be one thing if they were compiling a list of names as the outreach-based, public awareness effort they claim it is. But the charges they levy instead highlight it as a semi-deceptive money-making venture, playing on people’s desire to be involved but not delivering what most people think they’re paying for.

2 of 2 people learned something from this entry.

  1. Evan said,

    April 19, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    What’s Rakhat, I wonder? Google isn’t particularly helpful on this front.

  2. Susan said,

    April 20, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    (Learned something new!)


    The best part of this is that they have no connection to astronomy or authority to recommend names. This takes a lot of chutzpah.

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