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A Binomial Nomenclature for Common Names of Exoplanets

posted Sep 27, 2013, 12:09 AM by Abel Mendez   [ updated Sep 27, 2013, 12:20 AM ]
When naming exoplanets create common names for both the stellar system and the exoplanets

There are nearly one thousand exoplanets already confirmed and many more waiting for confirmation. The general astronomy community is interested on naming exoplanets with the help of the general public (1). Individual naming of such discoveries is a time consuming labor but both usable by the scientific community and general public.

Simple procedures for the individual naming of thousands or even millions of objects are nothing new to science. For example the binomial nomenclature by genera and species in Biology has been used to name over 1.2 million species and has the potential to name more than the estimated 8.7 million species on Earth (2). These are used as scientific names, equivalent to the catalog names in astronomy, but in many cases are easier to remember and even used as common names (i.e. E. coli).

We propose a similar binomial nomenclature for exoplanets to create simple hierarchical common names. The first part of the name is the stellar system and the second part is the individual planet name. If the stars have already a common name then it is used as the stellar system names (i.e. Fomalhaut). The planets or other stars of the system are named with the usual alphabetical letters until a proper name is given.

This procedure reduces the complexity of the catalog star names until the planets are individually named. As an hypothetical example, the planet Alpha Centauri B b, could become Alcen-B Rakhat, where Alcen is the name of the stellar system, B denotes the second star of the system, and Rakhat the name of the planet. The actual selection process of the individual names for the system and planets are out of the scope of this proposal.

Therefore, any exoplanet naming campaign should concentrate first efforts on naming the stellar systems of interest and then any individual planets, avoiding naming exoplanets before the stellar systems. The stellar names could also be used to guide the naming of its planets. Our suggestion describes a minimum effort plan for naming exoplanets and provides a logical and hierarchical system not much different from the current catalog names, but for common names too.

In the end, it is expected that some exoplanets will be better known by their full name (using both system and planet names) and others just by their individual name. A new definition of planets that includes both solar and extrasolar planets would also be appropriate before any naming campaign (3).