It’s a 24-hour dance…er, science party!

Please join us tomorrow to raise money so that CosmoQuest can continue to do its good work on science outreach!

Tomorrow, I’ll be spending an hour talking about my work with CosmoAcademy: the online classes offered through CosmoQuest. However, my colleagues Pamela Gay (AKA StarStryder) and Nicole Gugliucchi (AKA the Noisy Astronomer) will be hosting an entire 24 hour fundraising hangout! Please check in tomorrow, watch the conversations, and please please donate if you can. In this era of budget cuts and sequestration, public science education is suffering and you can help. Other guests will include Phil Plait (the Bad Astronomer), the Death by Puppets crew, and a variety of scientists!

The New Yorker recently started “Elements”, a science and technology blog. Their most recent contributor is…me! I covered a strange little controversy begun when the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a professional society with over 10 thousand members, decided to pick a fight with a company offering a contest to name exoplanets. That company, Uwingu, decided to fight back, and the exchange highlighted a set of philosophical questions about who gets to name new worlds.

However, the International Astronomical Union, a society of professional astronomers, strongly disapproves of the entire concept, and published a statement to that effect (though without mentioning Uwingu by name). According to its Web site, the I.A.U.’s tasks include serving “as the internationally recognized authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and surface features on them.” The process of naming new objects is complicated (the Web précis of the document is itself formidable), and the I.A.U. press release claims exclusive rights to decide what a planet is called—even over the wishes of the scientist or scientists who discovered it. [Read more…]

Now, can I get a picture of Eustace Tilley wearing a bowler hat?

Who names the exoplanets? Who gets to decide?