Edmonton

Mission you should choose to accept: Stellar Canadian contest will name planet, its star

It shouldn't be hard to improve on the current monikers: the planet seeking a new label is named HD136418B, while its star is called HD136418. 

A contest with universal appeal to rename two celestial bodies in the northern sky

HD136418B and its star are located 340 lightyears away from Earth in the constellation Boötes. (Peter Komka/EPA)

Consider it your intergalactic civic duty. 

The International Astronomical Union is calling on Canadians to name an exoplanet and the star that it's orbiting.

And it shouldn't be hard to improve on the current, less-than-catchy monikers: the planet seeking a new label is named HD136418B. Its star is called HD136418. 

The call to Canadians is part of an international contest honouring the 100th anniversary of the International Astronomical Union, the global body that regulates the naming of astronomical objects.

About 100 countries around the world are being given the same task with their own sets of celestial bodies. 

"Normally, stars don't get named but, in honour of their 100 year anniversary, they thought, 'Let's have some fun,'" said Sharon Morsink, an associate professor in astrophysics at the University of Alberta. 

"They chose, for each country, a star that is visible everywhere in that country. Canada is gigantic but they were able to find a star that is appropriate." 

A gas giant 

HD136418B and its star are located 340 light-years away from Earth in a constellation in the northern skies called Boötes. 

There's not much chance that HD136418B — by whatever name the planet is eventually known — would be suitable for habitation, said Morsink. 

"The star has a temperature that's pretty similar to our sun and the planet orbits in a way that would allow it to have liquid water. However, the planet is known to be somewhat similar to Jupiter in that it's a gas giant so it would not be a nice place to live."

That said, if there is a moon orbiting the planet, it "would be in the hospitable zone," she added.  

The celestial bodies can be spotted in the sky near the Big Dipper, Morsink said. And you don't need to be an elite skywatcher to spot them. 

"It's not visible to the naked eye but anyone who has an amateur telescope or a pair of binoculars would be able to see this star."

'Some Canadian content'

Morsink acknowledges that the contest organizers are keen to avoid a "Boaty McBoatface" scenario, in which a British research submarine earned the unusual moniker following a 2016 naming contest decided by online vote.

The more carefully structured star-naming contest, which closes Sept. 20, should ensure there will be no Starry McStarFace christened in the constellations. 

Morsink said the judges will shortlist  potential names before Canadians have a chance to vote on their top picks. The "popularity contest" will kick off in mid-November. 

"There should be some kind of Canadian content," Morsink suggested.

"We should be trying to honour something about Canada, whether it's people, legends or geography. Use your imagination." 

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