Tag Archives: naming

Name a Planet

So, you’d like to name a planet, perhaps after your grandmother or a current girlfriend or boyfriend. Here’s how below. But, forget trying to name a celestial object after your pet. So, “Mr.Tiddles”, “Snowy” and “Rex” are out.

From the Independent:

The international institute responsible for naming planets, stars and other celestial bodies has announced that the public will now be able to submit their own suggestions on what to call new discoveries in space.

Founded in 1919, the Paris-based International Astronomical Union (IAU) has more than 11,000 members in more than 90 countries, making it the de facto authority in the field.

Without any official laws enforcing the use of planetary names, the decisions on what to call new discoveries are usually a matter of consensus.

The changes announced by IAU hope to make public’s involvement more streamlined, asking that submissions are “sent to iaupublic@iap.fr” and promising that they will be “handled on a case-by-case basis”.

“The IAU fully supports the involvement of the general public, whether directly or through an independent organised vote, in the naming of planetary satellites, newly discovered planets, and their host stars,” says the statement.

The following guidelines have been offered for submission by would-be planet-namers:

? 16 characters or less in length,

? preferably one word,

? pronounceable (in as many languages as possible),

? non-offensive in any language or culture,

? not too similar to an existing name of an astronomical object.

? names of pet animals are discouraged,

? names of a purely or principally commercial nature are not allowed.

Despite this nod towards a democratic process, the IAU recently vetoed naming a newly discovered moon orbiting Pluto after Vulcan, the home-planet of Spock from the Star Trek franchise.

William Shatner, the actor who played Captain James Kirk in the show, launched a campaign via Twitter after the Seti institute discovered the new moons and created an online poll to name them.

Submitted names had to be picked from classical mythology and have an association with the underworld.‘Vulcan’ easily won the contest with 174,062 votes, followed by ‘Cerberus’ with 99,432 votes, and ‘Styx’ with 87,858 votes.

However, the IAU chose ‘Kerberus’ and ‘Styx’ as the names for the new moons, rejecting Vulcan as it “had already been used for a hypothetical planet between Mercury and the Sun.”

This planet was later found not to exist, but the term ‘vulcanoid’ is still used to refer to asteroids within the orbit of Mercury. Shatner responded to the IAU’s decision by tweeting, “They didn’t name the moon Vulcan. I’m sad. Who’d ever thought I’d be betrayed by geeks and nerds?”


Read the entire article here.

Dolphins Use Names

From Wired:

For decades, scientists have been fascinated by dolphins’ so-called signature whistles: distinctive vocal patterns learned early and used throughout life. The purpose of these whistles is a matter of debate, but new research shows that dolphins respond selectively to recorded versions of their personal signatures, much as a person might react to someone calling their name.

Combined with earlier findings, the results “present the first case of naming in mammals, providing a clear parallel between dolphin and human communication,” said biologist Stephanie King of Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, an author of the new study.

Earlier research by Janik and King showed that bottlenose dolphins call each other’s signature whistles while temporarily restrained in nets, but questions had remained over how dolphins used them at sea, in their everyday lives. King’s new experiment, conducted with fellow St. Andrews biologist Vincent Janik and described July 22 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved wild bottlenose groups off Scotland’s eastern coast.

Janik and King recorded their signature whistles, then broadcast computer-synthesized versions through a hydrophone. They also played back recordings of unfamiliar signature whistles. The dolphins ignored signatures belonging to other individuals in their groups, as well as unfamiliar whistles.

To their own signatures, however, they usually whistled back, suggesting that dolphins may use the signatures to address one another.

The new findings are “clearly a landmark,” said biologist Shane Gero of Dalhousie University, whose own research suggests that sperm whales have names. “I think this study puts to bed the argument of whether signature whistles are truly signatures.”

Gero is especially interested in the different ways that dolphins responded to hearing their signature called. Sometimes they simply repeated their signature — a bit, perhaps, like hearing your name called and shouting back, “Yes, I’m here!” Some dolphins, however, followed their signatures with a long string of other whistles.

“It opens the door to syntax, to how and when it’s ‘appropriate’ to address one another,” said Gero, who wonders if the different response types might be related to social roles or status. Referring to each other by name suggests that dolphins may recall past experiences with other individual dolphins, Gero said.

“The concept of ‘relationship’ as we know it may be more relevant than just a sequence of independent selfish interactions,” said Gero. “We likely underestimate the complexity of their communication system, cognitive abilities, and the depth of meaning in their actions.”

King and Janik have also observed that dolphins often make their signature whistles when groups encounter one another, as if to announce exactly who is present.

To Peter Tyack, a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution biologist who has previously studied dolphin signature whistle-copying, the new findings support the possiblity of dolphin names, but more experiments would help illuminate the meanings they attach to their signatures.

Read the entire article here.

Image: Bottlenose dolphin with young. Courtesy of Wikipedia.