An exoplanet and its home star now bear Cree names on international maps after a Canada-wide contest saw the labels rise to the top.
As part of its 100-year anniversary celebrations, the International Astronomical Union — the body which gives official names to astronomical objects — asked countries to participate in exoplanet and star naming contests.
Canada’s winning title for its star was “Nikawiy,” which means mother in the Cree language, and “Awasis,” or child, for the exoplanet.
University of Alberta associate professor Sharon Morsink teaches physics and astronomy courses, and she served as the chair of the Canadian contest. She said the winning names were proposed by schoolteacher Amanda Green in Edmonton, Alberta — in Treaty 6 territory — and astronomer Wilfred Buck, who is from Opaskwayak Cree Nation.
“It was a fun way to connect with people,” Morsink said, noting the Canadian Astronomical Society’s role in organizing the contest. “It was interesting from CAS’s point of view, in that we don’t normally organize events of this sort.”
She said that in Canada, 522 name proposals were received, and a panel of specialists approved a shortlist. The winner was then chosen by vote and announced in late 2019.
“[Green] came up with the idea of mother and child, which I think really resonated with people very nicely,” Morsink said. “The whole idea of the star as the mother and the planet as the child — it feels good.”
She also said the winner had been her top choice, as well, and she was happy when the people voting agreed.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “When I was looking at these things, I kept on coming back to that suggestion, and it just seemed so right.”
Morsink added Nikawiy is about 320 light years away from Earth. She noted the star is about four billion years old and has a temperature and spectrum similar to the Sun’s.
Located in the constellation Boötes, NASA states Awasis — the exoplanet HD 136418b — is a gas giant exoplanet that orbits a K-type or orange dwarf star. Its mass is 2.14 Jupiters, it takes 464.3 days to complete one orbit of Nikawiy, and the two are 1.29 AU away from one another. The exoplanet’s discovery was announced in 2009.