Thirty-four light-years away, in the Gemini constellation, there is an exoplanet that revolves around the orange giant star Pollux that has almost three times the mass of Jupiter.
Its scientific name is Beta Geminorum b, but a 10-year-old from Saanich is in the running to give the star-circling globe a new name – one with a better ring to it.
Alexander Bachynsky has been shortlisted to rename the exoplanet (a planet that orbits a star other than the sun) as part of a contest by the International Astronomical Union seeking proper names for 20 exoplanets. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for the Grade 6 Maria Montessori Academy student, whose interest in space started before he could read.
“I think we bought his first solar system when he was probably 18 months young. He could barely talk and he could say the planets,” said Alexander’s mom, Kelli.
Alexander found out about the IAU competition through an ad in National Geographic – but there was a catch.
“We went to the website and found out that you had to be an organization, an astronomical organization, to suggest a name,” said Kelli. “You couldn’t suggest it as an individual.”
“We tried to enter with my astronomy club,” noted Alexander, but the rules required submissions to come from official organizations.
With the deadline approaching, Alexander joined the Victoria chapter of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada as a youth member, and luckily, the group had not submitted an entry for the competition.
“At that point, I think he had 13 different names,” said Kelli.
“Fourteen,” corrected Alexander.
“He found out you could only submit one name for one of these 20 systems, and they agreed to submit it on his behalf,” said Kelli.
“We were really right on the deadline – actually a little past the deadline, but they had extended it because of a website glitch. We really got it in there under the wire.”
Out of his 14 suggestions, Alexander picked Ourea, a nod to Greek mythology which fell in line with the IAU’s request for a Greek name.
“Most of the planets except Earth are named after Greek gods and famous people in Greek history, and the Ourea were the primeval gods of the mountains,” said Alexander, though he noted the name may be more fitting for the Earth’s only natural satellite.
“When I was nine, I knew there was a very slight chance, but I wanted to name the moon Ourea because a) the moon has a lot of mountains, and b) its name is the moon and there are a bunch of moons in the solar system.”
Naming an exoplanet is just the next step in Alexander’s lifelong pursuit of all things out of this world. He was seemingly destined to study space, and he already knows what astronomical field he’d like to work in when he grows up.
“Astrophysics, specifically,” he said without hesitation.
Voting is open until Oct. 31, with a limit of one vote per electronic device per exoplanet. To vote for Alexander, go to nameexoworlds.iau.org/systems/104 and scroll down to Ourea, then click “vote.”