To the astronomers who discovered it, it may still be HAT-P-9b – but to Israelis, it’s now Aleph. After a month of voting, Israelis chose the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet as the name of the first heavenly body they have had an opportunity to name. And the star that Aleph revolves around has a new name too – Tevel, a biblical term meaning “earth.”
Aleph is an exoplanet located 1,585 light years from Earth. In November, the International Astronomical Union “distributed” dozens of unnamed exoplanets, stars, and comets to countries around the world, assigning their populations to give them a name. The effort is part of a worldwide campaign by the IAU in commemoration of its 100th anniversary. Called the IAU100 NameExoWorlds global campaign, the organization has signed up over 100 countries to organize national campaigns that will provide the public with an opportunity to vote.
The Israel Space Administration administered the naming process, and called on the public to submit name choices. The names, the ISA said, should “reflect features connected to Israel, such as objects, people, or places with social significance.”
In Israel’s case, it was exoplanet HAT-P-9b that they were asked to provide an official name for. An exoplanet is a celestial body seen through a high-powered telescope that orbits nearby stars. Thousands of such bodies have been discovered in recent years. HAT-P-9b is in the constellation Auriga, first observed in 2008, and is 40% the size of Jupiter, and believed to have many of that planet’s characteristics, with an atmosphere consisting mostly of helium and ammonia.
Commenting on the choice, Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis said that he was very impressed with the wide variety of names submitted and the great interest in the project. “It shows that the public is very interested in science and technology,” said Akunis.