This week a team of sharp-eyed astrophysicists announced their discovery of a new planet: a young, cold, and roguish type that refuses to orbit any star. They’ve named the sunless planet…CFBDSIR2149. While this is an improvement over “Uranus,” it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. An astronomy- and space-focused startup is seeking to end this squandering of planet-naming opportunities with its first commercial project. Uwingu–”sky” in Swahili–is challenging the people of Earth to create a “baby book of planet names” for the 160 billion or more planets astronomers now estimate inhabit our galaxy, the Milky Way (cut to image of delicious candy bars).
“You can nominate planet names for your favorite town, state, or country, your favorite sports team, music artist, or hero, your favorite author or book, your school, your company, for your loved ones and friends, or even for yourself,” suggests Uwingu founder and CEO Alan Stern, an aerospace consultant and researcher who formerly directed all science program and missions at NASA. Each nomination costs 99 cents, with proceeds going to create a private sector fund for space projects. Names can be up to 50 characters (latin letters only), from any language or culture, and “can be anything the average grandmother would be proud to hear her grandchild say.” A contest will determine the 1,000 most popular planet names in the database, which will be communicated to planet-hunting astronomers for consideration. Voting is now open (votes also cost 99 cents each). Among the early leaders are “Pale Blue Dot,” “Heinlein,” and “Ron Paul.”