(NEXSTAR) — The James Webb Space Telescope has the out-of-this-world honor of observing exoplanetary systems — those outside our solar system — but only we humans get the chance to name the systems.
Webb, the world’s largest and most powerful space telescope, left Earth in December and reached its lookout point 1 million miles away in January. After a lengthy process of aligning mirrors, ensuring the infrared detectors were cold enough to operate, and calibrating other instruments, Webb began peering into the depths of space.
Webb has shared images that went deeper into the cosmos than we’ve ever seen and recently captured a photo offering “a new view” of how a galaxy has changed over billions of years.
The $10 billion telescope isn’t done viewing the depths of space yet. NASA says Webb “has a packed schedule of science programs looking at all kinds of cosmic phenomena, like planets, stars, galaxies, black holes, and more.”
Among its targets are a handful of exoplanetary systems, which are planets that orbit stars that aren’t our sun.
A new contest has been launched to name 20 of those exoplanets and their host star.
Earlier this month, the International Astronomical Union announced the NameExoWorlds 2022 Competition to name some of the first exoplanets spotted by Webb. The IAU is responsible for a number of tasks surrounding the world of astronomy but you’re likely most familiar with one in particular — being the international authority for naming celestial bodies and features on them.
The NameExoWorlds contest invites people from around the world to team up for a chance to name the exoplanets discovered by Webb.
To participate, the IAU says you must first “create a team that brings together students and teachers, astronomy enthusiasts, amateur astronomers, and professional astronomers.” You’ll then want to select an exoworld system from this list and propose a name as a team for the exoplanet and star.
You shouldn’t name the system after yourself, your spouse, your pet, or anything else personal in your life. Instead, the IAU says names “should be of things, or places of long-standing cultural, historical, or geographical significance, worthy of being assigned to a celestial object.” According to the naming rules, you’ll need two names – one for the exoplanet and one for the star it orbits.
Once you have the names, the IAU says to hold an outreach event to educate others about exoplanets. You will then need to submit your proposed name and your outreach activity for evaluation.
Your proposal will go through a two-step process. A national panel will first select one proposal and two backup candidates from their country to be reviewed by the international final selection committee. The final committee will select the best candidates for each system based on the description and meaning behind the name and the outreach activity done by each team.
Teams have until November 11, 2022, to submit their proposals. Voting will be conducted from December until mid-March, with the final results announced on March 20, 2023. Full rules and details for the NameExoWorlds competition can be found here.
Images of Webb’s latest stunning discovery were released Monday. The photos, taken last month, capture unprecedented views of Jupiter’s northern and southern lights, and swirling polar haze. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, a storm big enough to swallow Earth, stands out brightly alongside countless smaller storms.
One wide-field picture is particularly dramatic, showing the faint rings around the planet, as well as two tiny moons against a glittering background of galaxies.
“We didn’t really expect it to be this good, to be honest,” said planetary astronomer Imke de Pater, of the University of California, Berkeley, who helped lead the observations.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.