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Want to Name a Planet or Crater? Time's Running Out

Want to be involved in the naming process for a planet beyond our solar system, or a crater on Mercury? There are contests for that, but act now.

Want to name an alien world? The International Astronomical Union's planet-naming contest is open for business. Suggestions are being solicited from registered clubs and nonprofit organizations — and if your group hasn't registered, you have until May 15 to do it. Next month, the first 20 extrasolar planets and their parent stars will be chosen for naming. Starting in June, members of the public can vote for their favorites. The winning names will be announced during the IAU's General Assembly in Honolulu in August. Check out for details.

Meanwhile, a competition to name five impact craters on Mercury is down to its final days. You can submit names to the outreach team for NASA's Messenger mission to Mercury, headquartered at the Carnegie Institution for Science, as late as Thursday. The names have to follow the IAU's artistically inspired naming guidelines for Mercury's craters. (For example, it's uh-uh-huh, oh-yeah for Elvis, but no-no-no-no for Ringo.) The IAU will announce the chosen names by April. Get the full rundown from the Messenger mission's contest website.

If you want to name a crater or a planet and you don't much care about the IAU's approval, a fund-raising venture called Uwingu will take your suggestions for Mars craters and exoplanets.



— Alan Boyle