The Public Got to Name 45 New Exoplanets and Stars

An artist’s concept of the exoplanet Kepler-452b, a “super-Earth." Image Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

The International Astronomical Union is the world’s utmost authority in naming celestial bodies, but in August, the organization turned the reins over to the public, allowing people to vote to name a handful of planets for the first time. The IAU announced the results of its NameExoWorlds contest today, giving new monikers to 14 stars and 31 exoplanets in their orbits. 

The newly adopted names take the form of different mythological figures from a wide variety of cultures from across history, as well as famous scientists, fictional characters, ancient cities and words selected from bygone languages,” the IAU noted in its press release.

New exoplanet and star names include Hypatia (the female Greek scientist); Meztli (an Atzec moon deity); Majriti (the Arab astronomer); Cervantes (the Spanish writer); Quijote (his most famous character); and Poltergeist ("run to the light!"). You can see them all here

The contest, which ran from August until the end of October, received more than half a million votes sent in from 182 countries and territories around the world. The people who proposed the winning names will get a plaque for their insight. 

The IAU’s naming committee validated all the choices selected by voters after the contest ended. They nixed one proposed exoplanet name, tau Boötis, because it didn’t conform to the organization’s rules for naming. It’s not the first time the public has been disappointed by the intricacies of international planet-naming bureaucracy. In 2013, voters were disappointed to learn that one of Pluto’s moons couldn’t be named Vulcan—a choice that garnered more than 174,000 votes in a public poll—because a hypothetical planet already had that name. Instead, the dwarf planet’s two smallest moons were named Kerberos and Styx, voted second and third. 

How Often Is 'Once in a Blue Moon'? Let Neil deGrasse Tyson Explain

From “lit” to “I can’t even,” lots of colloquialisms make no sense. But not all confusing phrases stem from Millennial mouths. Take, for example, “once in a blue moon”—an expression you’ve likely heard uttered by teachers, parents, newscasters, and even scientists. This term is often used to describe a rare phenomenon—but why?

Even StarTalk Radio host Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn’t know for sure. “I have no idea why a blue moon is called a blue moon,” he tells Mashable. “There is nothing blue about it at all.”

A blue moon is the second full moon to appear in a single calendar month. Astronomy dictates that two full moons can technically occur in one month, so long as the first moon rises early in the month and the second appears around the 30th or 31st. This type of phenomenon occurs every couple years or so. So taken literally, “Once in a blue moon” must mean "every few years"—even if the term itself is often used to describe something that’s even more rare.

[h/t Mashable]

Neutron Star Collision Sheds Light on the Strange Matter That Weighs a Billion Tons Per Teaspoon
Two neutron stars collide.
Two neutron stars collide.

Neutron stars are among the many mysteries of the universe scientists are working to unravel. The celestial bodies are incredibly dense, and their dramatic deaths are one of the main sources of the universe’s gold. But beyond that, not much is known about neutron stars, not even their size or what they’re made of. A new stellar collision reported earlier this year may shed light on the physics of these unusual objects.

As Science News reports, the collision of two neutron stars—the remaining cores of massive stars that have collapsed—were observed via light from gravitational waves. When the two small stars crossed paths, they merged to create one large object. The new star collapsed shortly after it formed, but exactly how long it took to perish reveals keys details of its size and makeup.

One thing scientists know about neutron stars is that they’re really, really dense. When stars become too big to support their own mass, they collapse, compressing their electrons and protons together into neutrons. The resulting neutron star fits all that matter into a tight space—scientists estimate that one teaspoon of the stuff inside a neutron star would weigh a billion tons.

This type of matter is impossible to recreate and study on Earth, but scientists have come up with a few theories as to its specific properties. One is that neutron stars are soft and yielding like stellar Play-Doh. Another school of thought posits that the stars are rigid and equipped to stand up to extreme pressure.

According to simulations, a soft neutron star would take less time to collapse than a hard star because they’re smaller. During the recently recorded event, astronomers observed a brief flash of light between the neutron stars’ collision and collapse. This indicates that a new spinning star, held together by the speed of its rotation, existed for a few milliseconds rather than collapsing immediately and vanishing into a black hole. This supports the hard neutron star theory.

Armed with a clearer idea of the star’s composition, scientists can now put constraints on their size range. One group of researchers pegged the smallest possible size for a neutron star with 60 percent more mass than our sun at 13.3 miles across. At the other end of the spectrum, scientists are determining that the biggest neutron stars become smaller rather than larger. In the collision, a larger star would have survived hours or potentially days, supported by its own heft, before collapsing. Its short existence suggests it wasn’t so huge.

Astronomers now know more about neutron stars than ever before, but their mysterious nature is still far from being fully understood. The matter at their core, whether free-floating quarks or subatomic particles made from heavier quarks, could change all of the equations that have been written up to this point. Astronomers will continue to search the skies for clues that demystify the strange objects.

[h/t Science News]


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