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Name the Cook Islands’ star and planet – and win prizes

Tuesday September 24, 2019 Written by Published in Weather

Teachers and schools are being encouraged to name a star and a planet, for submission to the International Astronomical Union.


On Saturday, local astronomy enthusiasts met to discuss how best to engage the community in this naming effort. Collaborating with kids was a priority item of discussion at the meeting.

The ‘Name the Cook Islands’ Exoworld’ competition is open to all members of the public. Residents of the Cook Islands can enter at astrofizz.org.

The website contains information about the star currently known as HD 221287b and the rules of the competition, which is essentially a response to the International Astronomical Union’s call for every country to name its own exoplanet.

Iaveta Short is in charge of assembling a committee of experts, perhaps a half-dozen, who possess knowledge of cultural traditions and traditional names for stars.

Once names are shortlisted, the committee will select its preference and offer explanations rooted in tradition as to why.

The committee was formed in response to a call from the International Astronomical Union for every country in the world to name its own exoplanet—a word that denotes the combination of a planet (of which there are more than 4000 in the Milky Way) and a star.

The astrofizz.org website went live yesterday, and it’s not just open to children: anyone in the Cook Islands is invited to volunteer a Maori name.

Cecile Marten and the Cook Islands Voyaging Society are supporting the initiative: they are interested in anything related to the stars, given the intimate connection between traditional voyaging and celestial navigation.

One of the Society’s longer-term goals is to document the Maori names of stars used by local navigators, for the purposes of educating youth.

The star and planet at issue is in Tucana, a constellation in the southern sky that’s visible on clear nights. Probably the best way to find it is using a smartphone with a sky map app. There are plenty of these available for both Android and iPhone. The star cannot be seen with naked eye but might be visible with a small telescope of binoculars.

Traditional navigators on ocean-going vaka have been looking at the sky for hundreds of years and all the brightest heavenly objects have been given Maori names; Matariki for the Pleiades, for example.

The competition will be open for a month so there is plenty of time to think about it. There are prizes available for winners. Remember, the sky's the limit!

– Wendy Evans

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