Bran, Franz, Solaris, Beirut and more: New star and planet names revealed

Thousands of exoplanets are known, but most have unintelligible catalog entries for names. Now 112 far-off worlds have more memorable monikers.

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Eric Mack
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Most of the newly renamed planets are gas giants orbiting near their stars. 


Centuries from now, flying to Beirut could land you in a very different destination than the middle eastern city you're probably thinking of. On Tuesday, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) announced the new names of 112 pairs of stars and their exoplanets, including HD 192263 b, a gas giant planet 64 light years away newly renamed after the Lebanese capital. 

The IAU coordinated efforts by 112 nations around the world to come up with new names for a star that can be easily seen with the naked eye or a small telescope from that country and a planet known to orbit the star. Hundreds of thousands of proposed names were submitted and a committee in each country came up with a shortlist of names that were then voted on by the public there.

Over 4,000 exoplanets have been discovered in the past 30 years, with most simply assigned a catalog identifier more like a telephone number than a memorable name. Most of the star-planet pairs in this batch are relatively close to Earth, cosmically speaking, but the majority of planets are gas giants and unlikely to be habitable. Nonetheless, the new names will make future star maps of our corner of the Milky Way a bit more colorful. 

For example, the star HD 16175 is now named coffee. Or rather, it's named Buna, which is the Ethiopian word for coffee, and the gigantic planet orbiting it is now Abol, which must be pretty energetic with so much caffeine involved -- its name refers to the first three rounds of coffee in a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony.   

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Colombia renamed the star HD 93083 to Macondo after the mythical village in the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who won the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature. The known planet orbiting the star is now called Melquíades, for the "fictional character that walks around Macondo, like a planet orbiting a star, connecting it with the external world by introducing new knowledge using his inventions as well as his stories," according to the IAU catalog.  

Austria chose to name its assigned star and planet for characters from the 1955 Austrian film Sissi about the relationship between Princess Elisabeth and the emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. The star HAT-P-14 in the constellation Hercules was renamed Franz, while the giant hot Jupiter planet that orbits it at close range, circling the star every 4.6 days, has been named Sissi. 

The Finns took a different approach to naming the similarly structured system around the star HAT-P-38. That star is now called Horna, the name for Hell in Finnic mythology, and the planet circling it close in is now Hiisi, which represents mythical evil spirits. 

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Fans of science fiction and old computer operating systems will be happy to learn that there's now a star named Solaris (BD+14 4559), after the famed 1961 novel by Polish science fiction author Stanislaw Lem, which was made into a movie in 1972 and again in 2002 (starring George Clooney). 

The Game of Thrones obsessed should know there's now a planet named Bran, although not for Bran Stark but rather a character from an Irish legend who's the son of Tuiren, which Ireland named the sun also known as HAT-P-36 that Bran orbits. 

The giant planet HD 73534 b some 272 light years away has been renamed Drukyul, or "land of the thunder dragon," which is also the native name for Bhutan. The people of Bhutan also named the planet's star Gakyid, meaning happiness. Bhutan is famous for having developed the concept of Gross National Happiness in response to most nations' focus on economic output as represented by Gross Domestic Product.

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Canada had naming duties for the exoplanet HD 136418 b, about 320 light years away. The newly named planet Awasis, which is the Cree word for child, orbits in the habitable zone around a sunlike star now known as Nikawiy (Cree for mother). Although this world is in a similar position to Earth's around the sun, it's a gas giant twice the mass of Jupiter and therefore not likely to be actually habitable.

Australians renamed the star HD 38283 some 125 light years away to Bubup, the indigenous Boon wurrrung word for child. The Saturn-size planet with an eccentric orbit around the star has been named Yanyan, meaning boy in the same language. 

A number of stars and planets were named for places here on Earth. HD 212771b was named Victoriapeak and its star dubbed Lionrock after iconic peaks of Hong Kong. Iraq renamed HD 231701 and its planet for the ancient city of Uruk and kingdom of Babylonia, respectively. Jordan renamed WASP-80 and its planet for the famed sites of Petra and Wadirum. Lebanon rechristened HD 192263's planet Beirut for its own capital and the star itself Phoenicia after the ancient civilization. The United States renamed the star HD 17156 and its planet Nushagak and Mulchatna, respectively, after rivers in southwestern Alaska famous for their wild salmon. 

You can find the full list of new names here.