Our suggestion yesterday that exoplanet HD 43848 b in the constellation Columba would probably benefit from a name other than "Female Pigeon" (Peristera) prompted the planet formation expert responsible for the idea to beam over a mild email protest.
Wladimir Lyra writes:
Dear Mr Haines,
I just saw the text you wrote about the planet naming opinion essay I uploaded to astro-ph. I am a bit disappointed with the negative focus, though glad for the attention.
In quoting "extensive use of Wikipedia" I was just being fair to the sources, even one as unorthodox as Wikipedia. As an astronomer, it is impressive to see the good quality of the astronomy wikis. The Roman-Greek mythology wikis were also quite complete. But of course I had dictonaries of Greek mythology to check the information. That's why I say that Wiki is a good source once the information there is handled with care. I fail to see what is so "chilling" about it.
About "Lyra's plan went a little awry"... Peristera is even the name of a island in Greece. So, it won't raise many eyebrows after all. Better a female dove than Uranus, for sure. As I said in the text, it is virtually impossible to avoid names that are overly common, funny or bad-sounding, because there will always be an obscure minor language in the Pacific Islands in which one of the names will be problematic. I did not decline to change it because of stubbornness, it was a decision towards minimizing subjectiveness. If one cannot identify all problematic cases in all languages, it is less subjective to not avoid it even when one can identify it.
Fair enough. I'd like to say I think the cunning mythological naming plan is a good 'un, although I can see the International Astronomical Union's point that as the number of newly-spotted bodies increases, it's going to be a bit of a job drumming up monikers for all of them.
Cue a comment from Reg reader Torben Mogensen, who suggests:
Why stick to Roman mythology? They are fine for our own solar system, but for other solar systems, you could use names from Norse, Hindu, Polynesian, Egyptian or other mythologies.
To be consistent, you would restrict each mythology to a single solar system. That would probably make us run out of mythologies fairly quickly, though, but then we can use fictional "mythologies" such as from The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Star Wars etc. How about a solar system with planets called Tatooine, Alderaan, Dagobah and Naboo and another with planets called Gandalf, Galadriel, Beren, Hurin and so on?
Why not indeed? Handily, some of them even have detailed Wikipedia entries. ®