1253: Exoplanet Names
Title text: If you have any ideas, I hear you can send them to [email protected].
On the 14th August 2013, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) issued a document about public naming of astronomical objects. It stated, "IAU fully supports the involvement of the general public, whether directly or through an independent organized vote, in the naming of planetary satellites, newly discovered planets, and their host stars."
The text above the image states the fact above and then notes that the IAU immediately regret this decision. As we can see from Cueball's question, from Ponytail's facepalm, and the fact that even Megan is speechless, the suggestions are appalling. It becomes even worse when Hairbun tells them that an automatic filter has already been applied to the results, one designed to remove inappropriate entries that don't meet certain criteria. This implies that the list would have been even worse if presented in its unfiltered form (as seen below in the table).
The naming document also contained, amongst other things, guidelines that suggested names should meet. These include stipulations such as "16 characters or less", "preferably one word", being "pronounceable (in as many languages as possible)", "not too similar to an existing name of an astronomical object", avoiding commercial names, and being "respectful of intellectual property". If we go down the list, we can see that many of Randall's suggestions do indeed violate the guidelines. Which is part of the joke as it reflects the tendency of internet submissions to ignore such softly suggested guidelines.
The randomness and inappropriateness of the suggested names reflects the commonly expected response from anonymous submitters on the internet. Many forums and contests that call for online response and do not apply strict control over the responses receive similar collections of random, inappropriate and obscure submissions that are often only tangentially related to the original subject. For example, Greenpeace held a naming contest for one of the whales recently tagged in their research and preservation campaign and even after selecting the finalists the online voting resulted in naming the whale "Mr. Splashypants". PepsiCo had even less restrictive controls in their marketing campaign that asked the internet to name a new flavor of Mountain Dew. They had to shut down the contest in order to avoid naming the new beverage "Hitler did nothing wrong" which was the current leader at the time and only marginally the most inappropriate of the top ten voted suggestions. Even more recently is the case of Boaty McBoatface, in which the internet decided to dub a British research vessel "Boaty McBoatface". The boat was given the name RRS Sir David Attenborough in the end, with its Autonomous Underwater Vehicle being called "Boaty McBoatface."
The document also states that naming suggestions may be sent to the email that Randall included in the title text.
This comic was updated in 1555: Exoplanet Names 2.
|A very unoriginal name; every planet is in space.
|Pun of MILF, i.e. Planet I'd Like to Fuck. Planet c is a relatively hot planet, within the habitable zone.
|"A Star" is obviously a bad name for a planet. A* (pronounced "A star") is already used in astronomy, for example the Milky Way's black hole core is Sagittarius A*. "A star" is also the name for the character asterisk and the name of the popular A* search algorithm in computer science. It also suggests that the planet is a star.
|e'); DROP TABLE PLANETS;--
| A reference to SQL injection, riffing off of comic 327, which featured a schoolboy named
Robert'); DROP TABLE Students;--. The idea here is that the IAU would enter the name into their system and promptly lose all of their data pertaining to planets. Note that Planet e is located in the habitable zone of the star system.
|Weird blog-related terms are a recurring theme in xkcd. See, for instance, comic 181.
|Planet candidate h is about the mass of the Earth, and described as "tantalizing": A dynamically-packed planetary system around GJ with three super-Earths in its habitable zone. See also (1231: Habitable Zone).
|Sid Meier's Tau Ceti B
|This refers to the game Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri.
|Giant Dog Planet
|VY Canis Majoris is one of the largest known stars at our galaxy and belongs to the constellation Canis Major, Latin for "greater dog". The constellation further contains Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, also called "Dog Star".
|Tiny Dog Planet
|cf. Canis Minor, Latin for "lesser dog", another constellation.
|A reference to Phil Plait, a.k.a. The Bad Astronomer.
|The Unicode character ☃ may be a reference to the planet's estimated surface temperature of -40 °C (-40 °F). However, this name would be pronounced differently (being a symbol, not a word or name) in different languages. Planets in our solar system are assigned to astronomical symbols like ♁ for Earth or ♂ for Mars. (A unicode snowman is also referenced in Randall's book What If, where it is keymapped to a laptop.)
|This massive planet orbits a red dwarf star at the longest known period of 3416 days at this category.
|Likely a reference to Lolcats, which are a series of images of cats captioned with poorly-written and/or spelled English.
| About 200th discovered exoplanet (in 2007); reported to be the first potentially Earth-like planet in the habitable zone of its star, though that is in doubt now. The joke might be that like "Space Planet", "Planet #14" is a generic and unoriginal name. Also note that this is the 15th entry in the table so the numbering is zero-based.
An interesting (?) coincidence is that the 14th and 15th Minor planets (then called asteroids) were discovered in 1851; see see List of minor planets: 1–1000. If they were to be counted among the planets of the Solar System, as was sometimes done then, the 14th known planetary body would be Iris (discovered in 1847, a year before Neptune).
|A crude pun on the planet Alderaan from the Star Wars universe.
|Eternia is a fictional planet, venue of the Masters of the Universe animated series and toy collection.
|Kim Stanley Robinson's award-winning Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars after various stages of terraformation). Taupe is a brownish-grey color.
|Possibly a reference to the conjecture that this tidally locked planet has an isolated habitable zone under the substellar point, akin to the pocket of jelly in a jelly doughnut.
|SkyDOT is the Sky Database for Objects in Time-Domain run by LANL for the U.S. Dept. of Energy and includes data for Epsilon Eridani that can be used to constrain the orbital parameters of ε Eri b. It may also refer to how objects in space may appear as bland, bright dots in the night sky.
|A Laser does not produce noise in the signal sense; it only works at a well-defined frequency. In science fiction films, however, laser weapon discharges are usually accompanied by sound ("pew pew" or the like). Sun-like Epsilon Eridani became a popular setting for science fiction after its publicity as a target of the Project Ozma experiment.
|The mythological name Pandora fulfills most of IAU's guidelines and has been popular for planets in science fiction; most recently and famously is the venue of James Cameron's Avatar (although actually it is not a planet but just a moon of a gas giant in Alfa Centauri A). It is also a hellish planet from Frank Herbert's WorShip series of novels, a jungle planet in Brothers Strugatsky's Noon Universe and the planet used in Borderlands Games.
|Named for the heavy metal band, which itself was named after an Italian sports car, the De Tomaso Pantera.
|A gambling website, known for paying to have their name in unusual places (like forehead tattoos, species names...).
|Most likely a reference to stampylonghead, although it could be a reference to the elephant from the Simpsons episode Bart Gets an Elephant.
|The name Bastian gives the Childlike Empress in The Neverending Story.
|HamSphere is a Ham Radio simulator program. Ham radio uses designated radio frequencies for non-commercial exchange of messages and more. A pun of Hemisphere.
|A pun on the name of the font Comic Sans. (See also: 590: Papyrus.)
|Legoland is a chain of theme parks owned by the Lego Group.
|Planet with Arms
|A reference to the early covers of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? Could also be a reference to "Birds with Arms" meme.
|Possibly a parody of science fiction in which certain planets are suggested to be uniformly... lax in morals (i.e. full of sex, drugs, etc.). See http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Planetville and related.
|Similar to the above, except with good planets. May also be yet another non-descriptive name, like "Space Planet" and "Planet #14".
|This is a reference to "The Petals Fall Twice", which was made as a humorous example of bad fan-fiction. The word itself is a portmanteau of "slowly", "licked", and "tickled". This may also be a reference to the Harry Potter currency, a “Sickle.”
|This suggests that the planet is "worthless" or "junk". This is false, of course. May be a reference to the fact it is a planet with nothing much different from the other planets.
|New Jersey VI
|Refers to the state of New Jersey; may be an insult to either.
|How Do I Join the IAU
|This implies that the user "got lost" on the IAU website and thought that the "planet name suggestion" input was for general queries.
|Neil Tyson's Mustache
|Neil deGrasse Tyson is a famous American astrophysicist and science communicator who does maintain a distinguished mustache.
|Similar to "How Do I Join the IAU", this implies that the user confused the "planet suggestion" text box for a new email they are trying to send.
|Refers to the well-known Hairy ball theorem of topology.
|Jupiter has more than 60 discovered moons, and still counting... A planet ten times more massive must also be a Moon Holder.
|A well-characterized "Hot Jupiter" at a temperature range of 973 ± 33 K to 1,212 ± 11 K. The name refers to the feature of Permanent death common in many RPGs and roguelikes.
|Blue Ivy Carter is the daughter of musicians Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
|A very small town in the United Kingdom, south of Edinburgh. Possibly chosen due to its insignificance?
|As far as we can tell, Kepler-3255b is in the vicinity of the constellation Monoceros, aka the Unicorn. Also a pun on corn thresher.
|The Discworld is the fictional setting for British author Terry Pratchett's Discworld series of humorous fantasy novels; it consists of a large disc supported by four elephants themselves standing on top of a turtle flying through space. "Spherical Disc" would be an oxymoron.
|Emergency Backup Earth
|This candidate planet has an Earth Similarity Index of 0.89, making it one of the most habitable Kepler object of interest. The name suggests that it could be used as a backup in case something happened to our current planet.
|Possibly the onomatopoeia for something getting sucked into a black hole.
|...Just a regular name (for a person, not a planet). Maybe a reference to the pet lizard on the Magic School Bus.
- [Text above the first frame of the comic:]
- August 2013:
- The International Astronomical Union
- decides to start naming exoplanets,
- and—for the first time ever—asks for
- suggestions from the general public.
- They immediately regret this decision.
- [Ponytail is facepalming while Megan and Cueball are looking at a computer screen on a desk. Hairbun points to the screen.]
- Cueball: Can't you filter out the worst ones?
- Hairbun: This is after the filter!
- [Below is a table showing the list of planet names as seen on the computer screen with gray background around the edges of the table.]
- [The table is in two separate columns, but there is only headings over the left, so the right column is a direct continuation of the left. In the table it is mentioned when the right column begins. There is a small arrow pointing from the word "Planet" down to the second column of the table. The headings in the comic are not inside the table as they are here below. The text at the bottom of the left list seems to continue on below, at least the last entry is cut below the middle, although it is still easy to read. Similarly the text at the top right list, seems to continue from above, the top entry missing the very top of the text. This is as if the list is much longer and here is just shown part of the list. To further indicate this the first entry in the right list begins at "c" instead of at "b" which is else the case for all other instances.]
Star Planet Suggested Name Gliese 667 b Space Planet c PILF d A Star e e'); DROP TABLE PLANETS;-- f Blogosphere g Blogodrome h Earth Tau Ceti b Sid Meier's Tau Ceti B c Giant Dog Planet d Tiny Dog Planet e Phil Plainet f Unicode Snowman Gliese 832 b Asshole Jupiter Gliese 581 b Waist-deep Cats c Planet #14 d Ballderaan e Eternia Prime f Taupe Mars g Jelly-Filled Planet Epsilon Eridani b Skydot c Laser Noises Gliese 176 b Pandora c Pantera Kepler-61 b GoldenPalace.com [Below is the right column.] Upsilon Andromidae c Stampy d Moonchild e Ham Sphere HD 20794 b Cosmic Sands c Legoland d Planet with Arms HD 85512 b Lax Morality HD 40307 b Good Planet c Problemland d Slickle e Spare Parts f New Jersey VI g How Do I Join the IAU Gliese 163 b Neil Tyson's Mustache c [email protected] d Hair-Covered Planet Pi Mensae b Moon Holder HD 189733 b Permadeath Kepler-22 b Blue Ivy Kepler-3284 b Blainsley Kepler-3255 b Unicorn Thresher Kepler-2418 b Spherical Discworld Kepler-1686 b Emergency Backup Earth Kepler-3010 b Feeeoooooooop Kepler-442 b Liz
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