Naming the Planets

| 12/17/2008 11:31:13 AM

Mars or HD 123486?The majesty of the cosmos seems somewhat diminished when scientists refer to planets by alphanumeric designations. David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” would be less impressive were it named “Life on HD 11964 d.” And I doubt that a book called, “Men Are From Kappa CrB b, Women Are From TrES-1 b” would sell very well. We give proper, sometimes impressive names to planets in our solar system, and Christopher Cokinos asks in the American Scholar (article not available online), “Shouldn’t we extend the courtesy to planets that orbit other stars?”

Giving creative names to distant planets could restore a sense of wonder and a greater attachment to the celestial bodies, Cokinos writes. When planets are named after mythological characters, it gives them a back story that amateurs and laypeople can understand better. It also places our planet as “part of a cosmic family and place worth protecting.”

To emphasize the point, here’s David Bowie’s “Life On Mars?”:

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