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Astronomers Want Your Vote to Help Name 32 Alien Worlds

A global contest to name 32 alien planets has entered the home stretch.

The public can now vote on a list of proposed common names for the 32 exoplanets, as well as most of their host stars, in the International Astronomical Union's "NameExoWorlds" competition. Voting is open through Oct. 31, and the winning names will be announced in mid-November, IAU representatives said.

NameExoWorlds kicked off in July 2014, when the IAU — which assigns "official" names to celestial objects and their surface features — chose an initial group of 260 extrasolar systems containing 305 well-characterized alien worlds.

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In January 2015, astronomy clubs and nonprofit organizations around the world began voting to determine which 20 of these 260 systems would be open to public naming. The 20 that were selected harbor 32 known alien planets, some of them quite famous. For example, one of them is 51 Pegasi b, which in 1995 became the first alien planet ever discovered around a sunlike star.

In April, the clubs and nonprofits started submitting proposals to name these alien worlds and 15 of the host stars. (The other five stars already have common names and were therefore off-limits.)

And now it's the broader public's turn to participate in NameExoWorlds. Public voting on the proposed names officially opened Tuesday evening during a ceremony at the IAU's 29th General Assembly in Honolulu.

The public can vote by visiting the NameExoWorlds website. Voting is free and requires no registration. Each computer, smartphone or tablet will be permitted to cast just one vote for each of the 20 exoplanetary systems, IAU representatives said.

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NameExoWorlds isn't the first project that invites the public to name exoplanets. The company Uwingu has launched several such efforts over the past few years, charging small amounts to propose and vote on appellations for alien worlds. (Uwingu's stated chief goal is helping fund space research, exploration and education efforts.)

While one of these projects was going on, the IAU issued a press release asserting its status as the sole authority in the exoplanet-naming process and stressing that it's not possible to buy an "official" name. While Uwingu wasn't mentioned by name, the press release seemed to be a response to the company's activities.

This is a condensed version of a story that first appeared on Space.com. Read the original article here. Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow Space.com @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+.

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