Contest seeks public name for our closest exoplanet neighbour

Last October astronomers announced that they had discovered a planet orbiting around one of the stars in our closest neighouring star system, Alpha Centauri, and now the people at Uwingu want your help to give the planet a 'better' name than 'Alpha Centauri Bb'.

"Alpha Centauri Bb is a fine designation for us astronomers, but let's face it — it's a little boring," said Uwingu CEO Alan Stern, principle investigator for NASA's New Horizons mission and chief scientist for Moon Express. "Let’s see what the people of planet Earth would want to name their nearest planetary cousin."

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Alpha Centauri Bb is just a bit bigger than the Earth, and orbits Alpha Centauri B at a distance just one-tenth the distance that Mercury orbits our Sun, making one orbit in just 77 hours.

Nominating a planet name for the contest costs $4.99 and casting a vote costs 99 cents. All the money collected is used to fund science research, education and exploration.

"This is a new way for the people of Earth, of every age, of every nation, of every walk of life to personally connect to space discoveries, and to help fund space research and education in the process," said Stern.

Planet names that get 100 votes, 1,000 votes and 10,000 votes will get prizes, and the top-voted name will get a call from Uwingu’s CEO and planetary scientist Alan Stern and Uwingu advisor/planet hunter Geoff Marcy, a free year's subscription to Astronomy Magazine, their picture on the Uwingu web site and a signed plaque commemorating their name and the planet name they proposed.

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The name chosen will not be the planet's official name, though. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is the only organization that can give official names to astronomical objects, and it seems satisfied with the accepted convention of naming the objects in a star system in chronological order, with the star considered the 'a', the first planet discovered as 'b', the second 'c', third 'd', and so on.

The contest runs until April 15th, so get your nominations and votes in now.

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