Friday, September 01, 2006

Naming the Planets

Okay, this is positively the last planet post, for a while.

I want to talk about a slightly different classification topic, naming the planets. Currently, this is owned by the IAU. It's a long drawn-out process, and because of their philosophy, that makes sense.

The IAU works under the premise that everything belongs to the world at large. Therefore the world must name the things. Thus committees and long waits. This is why Xena will never become the official name of 2003 UB313. It's just too pop culture and violates the guidelines.

And you should read the guidelines! It's fascinating stuff. Planets are supposed to be Greek/Roman gods, but all the good names are taken because they never thought they'd need any more of them, so they used the other names for asteroids.

It's not just planets either. Take a look at the names of the newly discovered moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. Apparently all of Jupiter's moons have to be ... lovers, or children of Jupiter/Zeus. And Saturns moons are named after giants.

Names of asteroids are much more wide open, but it's still a committee process. The discoverer is 'invited to suggest a name', but there are guidelines. No product endorsements, no family pets, and if you're a hot discovery team -- please don't overload the committe by suggesting any more than one name a month.

Ah, it makes one long for hopping off to P3X-797.

In contrast, science fiction writers use any name that fits the story. In that sense, we're like discoverers that can name our creations instantly. Like explorers in unknown territory, we are drawing the map and scribbing anything that comes to mind on the sheet.

Do I propose we do that in real life? Not exactly. Any public action made in haste has a disconcertingly high chance of causing a bit of remorse later. But in basic, how about a quick public announcement, with a one year opportunity to change it before it gets written in the Big Book. Yes, that might give us planet Fluffy, but the colonists would be free to change it later. Essentially, I propose we use the same model used on Earth. Discovery gives the unconditional right-to-name, but later owners can change it however they want.

This, of course, is a different philosophy that the IAU supports. In this model, people own what they discover, or what they hold. The owner sets the name.

And for anyone who think's we should be out there, holding a bit of alien ground, ownership is the only way to go.

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