Name Your Own ExoPlanet with IAU’s NameExoWorlds Project – Will Vulcan Make It This Time?


Ever want to name your own planet? Soon, the general public will get the chance to vote on names submitted by public astronomical organizations for 305 hand-picked exoplanets, officially giving the first popular names to worlds outside of the Solar System. No, this isn’t one of those pay-money-to-name-a-star scams. The NameExoWorlds project has been put together by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the official and only body that can give names to celestial objects, in partnership with Zooniverse, home of some of the most successful citizen science campaigns.

How to name your own planet
The IAU has hand picked a list of 305 well-characterized exoplanets (that is, 305 planets orbiting a star other than our own whose existence is confirmed) in 260 systems discovered before December 31st, 2008. The list of planets includes details such as planet mass, current designation, and orbital period in addition to whether more than one planet has been discovered around the same star. One system has as many as five planets! Public astronomy organizations from high school clubs to planetariums can register with the NameExoWorlds project in order to submit a proposal to name a world. The organizations can only submit one name for one planet and are not allowed to gather suggestions from outside of the organization or to sell the rights to submit a proposal (don’t worry, no PepsiCo Planet or Tostito’s Presents: The Fiesta Planet).

The list does not tell whether or not the planet is Class M

How can you help?
You can already register at the NameExoWorlds website. As soon as the exoplanet name proposals star coming in from astronomical organizations, the IAU and Zooniverse will need your help to decide which ones to pick. That’s when they will call on their registered members (that’s you!) to start voting on names.

A history of naming things in outer space — A planet Vulcan?
This isn’t the first time the public have been called upon to name things in outer space (although, it is probably the first time anyone has gotten the chance to name something outside of the Solar System). The IAU recently asked the public to vote on names for Kerberos and Styx, two of Pluto’s smallest moons. When William Shatner heard about the contest, he immediately suggested adding the name “Vulcan” to the bunch. “Pluto is so big and cold that it deserved to have a hot little rock running around it, named Vulcan — for fire,” Shatner told CinemaBlend. But, despite his best efforts and the name winning by a landslide, the IAU said that they could not use the name Vulcan since another celestial body already carries that moniker — a theoretical planet that some hypothesized orbited our sun between Mercury and Venus in the late 1800s.


Perhaps some pioneering young club of astronomy enthusiasts can convince the IAU that, since their hypothetical planet Vulcan was a body postulated to exist within our own solar system, that giving that name to an exoplanet would be fair game. Your move, IAU.

Similarly, NASA has been holding contests for years to name things from space shuttles to Mars rovers. Those contest have had an important distinction, however. Anyone could submit a name. And, I mean anyone. Back in 2009, NASA had a similar contest to name one of the modules on the International Space Station (formerly known simply as Node 3). Unfortunately for NASA, acclaimed egotist Stephen Colbert got wind that something needed a name and encouraged viewers to suggest “Colbert”. Much to NASA’s chagrin, it worked; “Colbert” won by a landslide. But, NASA has a policy not to name things after living individuals and so avoided having to name their module after a television host. In honor of his valiant effort, however, NASA chose the designation ‘Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill,’ for a new treadmill headed to the ISS. That spells out COLBERT for those keeping track.

Lest we forget The Enterprise
And how could we forget the mother of all naming-things-in-space campaigns: the naming of Space Shuttle Enterprise. The shuttle was originally to be called Constitution in honor of its unveiling on Constitution Day, September 17, 1976. But, after a letter writing campaign to President Gerald Ford, Star Trek fans convinced the President and NASA to change the name to Enterprise. The space shuttle Enterprise is now retired and on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.




Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Space: the Final Frontier!

That’s us out there! It’s not super-heroes.
We can do it and we will.

Fantastic pictures!!!

Was Shatner at the Shuttle roll-out? I don’t see him in the picture.

For the record, the hypothetical planet “Vulcan” was thought to be between Mercury and the Sun, not Mercury and Venus.

#3. Nachum – July 9, 2014

No, he wasn’t and neither was Majel, Grace, nor Matt Jefferies.

For the record, that wasn’t a shuttle roll-out per se but merely the christening of a test vehicle that never shuttled away from this mortal coil. A lot of NASA paperwork refers to it as an “Orbiter” but that’s a misnomer as it was never equipped for spaceflight.

And if in any of its testing it was deemed “spaceflight” worthy you would have thought they would have upgraded it to replace one of the lost shuttles instead of building one out of spare parts.

I seem to have a vague recollection that Shatner boycotted the test vehicle christening because he was actively lobbying that the name “Enterprise” should actually be on a ship that’d make it into space. But until I dig up something more concrete on that, we’ll have to call it a rumor at best.

A lot of us lobbied loud and long for the first space shuttle to be named Enterprise; of course Shatner was more important to it all than the rest of us. :-) The official excuse was that he was working somewhere and couldn’t leave.

We were so ecstatic when we first heard that they would honor our efforts and name the first shuttle Enterprise but we quickly found out, it was the prototype – not and never to be a working prototype, even.

Waits for uranus jokes to start…


A close friend of mine was a high ranking military worker in the 1960s at the Cape. He knew the astronauts personally, some more than others, but he said all were so bright, many were eccentric, and those squeaky clean publicity pictures of them were so dehumanizing, not showing their spirit and courage.

My friend also says that no matter what remote area the astronauts were training in and no matter what ridiculous thing they were being put through, they would manage to get a small black and white tv hooked up and would watch “Star Trek” (ORGINAL, of course) every week. They credited Star Trek with giving them inspiration and even philosophy.

My friend also states that all believed in extraterrestrial life. Several had seen strange things as test pilots in Earth skies also.

#6. IDIC Lives! – July 10, 2014

One thing is certain from STARLOG Issue Number 3 which cover this same shuttle christening event:

“As mentioned in Starlog’s last issue, Paramount has been
negotiating with noth William Shatner and Leonard Nemoy
to make firm commitments on appaering in the Star Trek
film. According to Roddenberry, Paramount has been
successful in signing William Shatner, to repeat his original
role of Captain Kirk. Shatner reportedly made sure that his
contract contained a clause stating that if he doesn’t approve
of the film’s screenplay, he does not have to appear in the

Incidentally, as indicated by the preceeding information,
Paramount has again pushed back the film’s starting
production date— from January 1977 to sometime next
spring. Roddenberry told STARLOG that since the film’s
director has been chosen, we need only wait for completion of
the screenplay before Paramount gives the go-ahead on set
production, costume design, and other related areas of
production. ” — STARLOG, Issue Number 3, January, 1977, page 8

It couldn’t have anything to do with contract negotiations as The Shat was signed and Nimoy held out and still showed.

As far as appearing at the event for the prototype space shuttle, I doubt that was under any contract, at least not in those days. It was just a “show up” (or not)–but am sure Shatner was encouraged to do so.

Like him or not, Shatner has a lot of courage, always has had on a number of issues. I really respect that guy–obviously.

And I have to say, the first film was the result of fan pressure too as well as the continued reruns of TOS. Trek is here today because of us. We older fans don’t expect anything special, certainly not worship (haha), but we do expect not to have our well-thought-out (pro-TOS) opinions constantly labeled as “nonsense” or worse by quarrelsome folk.

We certainly won’t be yammered into silence NOW. Our love of Star Trek is deep and wide, and it deserves The Best, not the mediocre and not to be changed into a psuedo Star Wars/Transformers.

However, I am not making this generational.

Anyone, young or not so young, who actually comprehends Star Trek, wants it to be the best it can be.

9. IDIC Lives! – July 10, 2014

Well put. Very well put.


Thank you. :-)

If there’s an exoplanet orbiting a red star, it needs to be Krypton.

There should be one named Alderaan and one named Vulcan in honor of them getting detonated.

I actually DON’T want them to name some random planet “Vulcan.” Vulcan is the birthplace of my favorite Star Trek character; it’s the home of humanity’s older-and-sometimes-wiser siblings; it’s a place of culture, civilization, mysticism, and science. To my mind, naming some random hunk of rock “Vulcan” would cheapen the REAL Vulcan — the one in our hearts.

#14 Corylea

I agree.

#10. IDIC Lives! – July 10, 2014

Didn’t meant any sort of contractual obligation in showing up. Did mean that showing up might be interpreted by someone still in contract negotiations as lending undue “Free” publicity to Paramount’s next Trek when Paramount won’t agree to terms. In other word a negotiating tactic to indicate the actor is serious about his negotiations.