Choki Wangmo

Bhutanese have a chance to name an exoplanet and its host star in Dzongkha. Planets that go around stars other than the sun are called exoplanets.

As part of its 100th anniversary, International Astronomical Union (IAU), a society of astronomers with the authority to name celestial objects is calling on countries world-wide to name exoplanets. So far, 115 countries have signed up including Bhutan.

The Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) under MoIC has received more than 20 proposed star names between November 16 and yesterday.

From different submissions made to DITT through Google forms and emails, the national committee would select 10 names, which would then undergo public voting. The public voting will start from November 21 to 24.

A participant can propose two names –one for the exoplanet and one for the star it orbits. The names should be followed with brief description of the nomenclature.

The winning names from different countries will be announced by IAU in December 2019 and used as official names in parallel with the existing scientific nomenclature.

However, according to IAU, the proposed names should be that of things, people, or places of long-standing cultural, historical, or geographical significance. The names can be drawn from themes related to the sky and astronomy that the exoplanetary system lies in.

The short time period of the project, coordinated by the MoIC, has somehow led to rushed implementation. Telecom and space division Chief with MoIC, Sonam Phuntsho said that the submission of names, down selection, and public voting had to be completed within more than a week.

National committee will conduct their first meeting today.

The initiative is expected to create awareness of humans’ place in the universe and reflect on how the Earth would be perceived by a civilisation on another planet.

In July, IAU president elect, Debra Elmegreen, said, “The NameExoWorlds initiative reminds us that we are all together under one sky.”

Sonam Phuntsho said, the country’s participation was a unique opportunity to name an exoplanet and its host star in our language. “NameExoWorld’s project is in line with His Majesty’s vision of promoting interest in space science and astronomy,” he said.

This participation, according to Sonam Phuntsho will go a long way in generating interest of young people in space science.  As each country’s designated star will be visible from that particular country, it would be bright enough to be observed through small telescopes.

“I am excited,” Sonam Phuntsho said.

According to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), exoplanet orbiting a sun-like star was first confirmed in 1995. Since then, statistical estimate places, on average, at least one planet around every star in the galaxy.