Earthlings have a long, proud history of naming planets.
Traditionally, we used the mighty names of gods, like Mars, the god of war; Neptune, the god of the sea; and Uranus, the god of sophomoric humor. From 1930 to 1970, as new planets were discovered, they, too, were given names of strength, even if they were no longer based in mythology: Krypton, Qo’Nos,* Gallifrey and Altair IV.
But in the late 20th Century, as the number of known planets began to proliferate (thanks mostly to George Lucas), we began to run out of good planet names.**
The problem is getting worse, as ever more powerful technology allows us to stick our astrophysical noses where they don’t belong. Scientists are discovering new planets almost as often as Bob’s Discount Furniture discovers new ways to make a couch recline. (“And get all 20 pieces for only $298!”)
And since scientists are the only ones who know (or care) about these new planets, they are giving them ultra-scientific names like Kepler-42c, WASP-19b, OGLE-TR-56b, and Qatar-1b, a list that reads less like a collection of new planets and more like the lobby directory of an apartment building. (“That’s, right, sir. I’m here to see Kepler in 42C. He’s expecting me.”)
Even the scientists realize that better names are needed. And so an organization called Uwingu has started a contest like the ones zoos have when a new gorilla is born. Uwingu wants ordinary people like you and me (well, not me) to name the Earth-sized planet closest to us, which is currently called Alpha Centauri Bb, a moniker which, I’m assuming, has been deemed too similar to Alpha Centauri Cc and Alpha Centauri Dd, and so might be confusing to the nice lady with the speech impediment who lives in your GPS.
You may want to know what you win if Uwingu picks your name for its planet. You probably think Uwingu will send you off into space, possibly to visit the planet you named.
Well, you’re wrong. If you want to go into space, you have to enter the contest Axe is running to promote its new Apollo line of men’s grooming products. All you win for naming an entire planet is:
- A signed plaque commemorating the name and its namer^
- Your picture on the Uwingu website alongside the winning name you chose
- A free 12-month subscription to Astronomy magazine
- Uwingu gift certificates
The last prize isn’t as exciting as it sounds, since pretty much all Uwingu sells are t-shirts and mugs with the Uwingu logo on it. (Well, okay, maybe it is as exciting as it sounds.) This, plus the fact that it actually costs $4.99 to enter the contest, pretty much ensures that the only people who will submit names are nerds who think that being able to say they named a planet is a good way to pick up women.
This would help to explain the list of names submitted so far, which includes Heinlein, Uhuru, Vulcan, Wookiee and Yoda.
It seems to me this is just asking for an alien invasion. I mean, here I am, calmly living my life on Alpha Centauri Bb, and I am suddenly informed that my peaceful, yet technologically-advanced planet is now named Chewbacca. Well, clearly I cannot go on living where I will be referred to as a Chewbaccian, so I will have to move my entire civilization to the nearest planet like my own, which happens to be Earth, so you terrestrials better get going on your immigration reform!
There’s another reason why this project is misguided. Uwingu says that the entry fees will go toward “space exploration research and education.” But if they’re really serious about that, they’re doing it all wrong.
What they need to do is sell the naming rights.
I mean if Citibank is willing to pay millions of dollars to have their name on a minor league ballpark,^^ imagine what they’d be willing to pay to have “CitiWorld” up there on all the planetary maps! Who wouldn’t want to someday colonize the planet MetLife? Wouldn’t we all feel confident of victory if our planet was invaded by beings from Minute Maidius?
And there’s already a precedent for this. After all, two planets in our own Solar System are named after defunct car brands, and one advertises a ladies’ razor!
So, come on, Uwingu, let’s really raise some money. Get your executives on the phone with some movers and shakers like Richard Branson (the Virgin Planet), Don Thompson (McPlanet), and Karl Rove (Grand Old Planet).
Or maybe start small. Who’s the CEO of Planet Fitness?
See you soon.
P.S. The Uwingu contest ends April 15, so get your entry in now!
*Qo’Nos, evidently, is the home planet of Klingons. I was trying to think of a list of fictional planets from the mid-1900’s, and I thought, “Oh, yeah, the planet that Klingons came from,” and then realized I didn’t know what that was. “The planet Kling” just didn’t seem right, so I looked it up. I am telling you this so that you don’t think I know this sort of information off the top of my head, which would be really, really sad. Gallifrey, by the way, is Doctor Who’s home planet, and Altair IV is from Forbidden Planet. Krypton I’m assuming you know.
^And this plaque isn’t even put on the planet! Also, it’s not clear who it is signed by.
^^I’ve just been informed that CitiField purports to be the home of a major league team.
+I also had to look up a list of Star Wars planets because I don’t know those off the top of my head, either. Really. I swear.