Posted by: Mark Nielsen | July 12, 2013

Naming “New Blue”… with Trek Nuts, and Pluto, Too

Have you seen this planet (at right)? No nametag. If found, please call 1-800-NEW-BLUE.

Bang. Pow.

Now that Independence Day (and Canada Day!) are behind us and we’ve gotten the firework sparklies out of our eyes, time to look up again and get seriously playful with the stars, planets and moons. Calling all amateur astronomers and serious dreamers, there are some “new” kids in town, and they need your help.

Two big stories in the sky these days:

1) Earth has a new competitor in the galaxy for the title “Big Blue Marble”, and

2) Pluto (remember, not a planet anymore, though we’re working on repealing that amendment) and its new moons stir up controversy yet again– compliments of legions of Star Trek fans (not to mention those troublemakers Shatner and Nimoy themselves!)

First up: just what is “New Blue“? — and can we please get a better NAME for it than HD 189733b !!! So drab, don’t you think?

I picked up on this serious astronomy story via CNN yesterday– July 11th, 2013 –but it’s still trending strongly, probably because things are quiet politically of late (other than the “lit fuse” in Egypt, that is…). But before it fades from the public eye (as most serious science stories do, fairly quickly), let’s give a brother a break and shine some light on his planetary plight.

Basically, New Blue is the temporary name I am giving to a planet 63 light years away, discovered in 2005, for which the Hubble Telescope has now determined for certain that its color is a deep azure blue. Though we now know of hundreds of planets in several galaxies (394 planets, to be precise) [link], this is the first time we’ve been able to “see” the actual color of one. They determined this by process of elimination: they measured the color/light-wave emanations from its solar system before, during, and after the planet went behind its sun. Then when it was behind the sun, the blue light/energy frequency being measured dipped considerably, while all other colors stayed the same. Thus… New Blue.

Wow! See how easy science can be when you apply yourself? (Pay no attention to that silly rapper with a new baby behind the curtain…)

New Blue is a gas giant, a “hot Jupiter” (That’s the official term. Honest.) This means it’s huge and gassy like our Jupiter (and like some of our human cousins, frankly), but it’s only 2.9 million miles from its star. For comparison sake, Mercury is 36 million miles from our sun, Uncle Sol.

And speaking of suns and bad puns, my own son Graham (age 11, the REAL astronomer in the family) tells me that our own solar system may have had a similar hot Jupiter at one point, a big planet that Uncle Sol just swallowed up, because he could. Graham says the methane measured in our sun is unique, and shouldn’t really be there, which indicates Cousin Smelly the Hot Jupiter may have gotten et.

Now… back to the other cousin: New Blue. Let’s talk about the need for a real, memorable name for New Blue:

Fashionistas and Queer Eyes for the Straight Gaia, can you give us some suggestions in the comments section here about what you think we should call our new blue cousin? I’m Sirius here, people! <—[link] (Careful… link is a tangential distraction about occult traditions and the star named Sirius.)

For one thing, I vote we get rid of that whole stuffy Roman mythological naming system, real soon. It’s too restrictive. For example, why not go to the animal kingdom? With modern technology giving us the ability to see (and thus want to name) so many more celestial bodies and phenomena, what’s the harm in improving our language for what we call things, just to keep pace? Let’s call New Blue something fun, like The Blue Iguana.

Okay, I’m still kidding around a bit with that one– but come ON, Big Science!

Come on, Old Boy Oxford astronomers and NASA geeks, use your imagination! [Tom Evans of Oxford is the New Blue scientific paper’s lead author. Tom Evans. Really? Geez, even THE GUY’S NAME is so… boring.]

Imagine! Think bigger, astronomers. It doesn’t conflict with serious academic study. You’re just too tradition-bound to take a chance here and there.

What’s the Latin name of the bluejay?  A: Cyanocitta cristata . Yeah, that works for me! Or how about just Cyano, referring to the color itself. Or call it Cyrano! After the big-nosed lover from French literature, the epitome of “the blues” when it came to love. Back to animals: how about calling the planet “Macaw”, after that really cool-looking and well-known blue and gold species from the South American macaw family —>

Blue-and-Gold Macaw (Ara ararauna)

For the record, here is the link to the full New Blue story at CNN (written, ironically, by one Melissa Gray, har har):

CNN on “New Blue”, the Planet Where It Rains Shards of Glass <—[link]

Or… since New Blue features hot silicon rainstorms blowing at 4500mph, like a blowtorch, blowing glass, then let’s name the planet after local Chicago hero and PBS darling Ira Glass, of the syndicated storytelling program This American Life <—[link]. Why not? His show promotes enthusiasm about serious science, creativity and astronomy more than just about any other popular media source I can think of… other than the great Stephen Colbert, of course, who’s practically an honorary astronaut by now.

Colbert Nation, are you with me? Get New Blue onto my man Stephen’s radar, and let’s get this planet a real name for cryin’ out loud!

Okay, enough about faraway planets like HD 189733b. (bleah… can’t get that gray, chalky taste out of my mouth when I say it out loud.) Let’s bring things back closer to home and go to one of my favorite places in the solar system, your friend and ours, House of Ice and Fog, our solar system’s true “Rock” Star: PLUTO!!!

I’ve said a little bit at Marking Time over the years about my affection for Pluto. He got a shout out in an original and humorous astronomy-themed poem over here, plus my little micro-business producing marketing communication material for Mom-&-Pop broke-ass nonprofits is called Pluto Productions. (Motto: “Further out than you’ve ever been…”).

But I don’t think I’ve expressed my concern about Plutonic political gamesmanship in the astronomy community since I dragged MT over here from Myspace a number of years ago. So now big thanks go out to the Trickster King, William Shatner, for putting Pluto back onto the international radar.

This time around, the Plutonic Plague controversy has been over naming celestial bodies (thus my tie-in to New Blue above). Specifically, there are some arguments about naming the two newly discovered tiny moons that orbit Pluto. What THIS July 3 story <—[link] lays out (in a gaudy, waaaay-too-cutesy style for anyone to take seriously), is that the international academic community polled the public for input on what to call the moons, then discarded the so-called public’s “majority” opinion.

Yellow circles indicate the names of Pluto’s new moons. Yellow… the color of the gutless, like the gutless astronomers who NIX’ed the chance to call Kerberos “VULCAN”.

The original caption for this Pluto photo says it all: “Pluto’s two newly discovered, and smallest, moons will be named Styx and Kerberos, despite “Vulcan” winning in an online poll.”

It seems that, back in February of 2013, “Captain Kook– I mean Kirk”  started a Twitter campaign <—[link] to incite public pressure in that poll, to steer the astronomy community toward naming the bigger of the two midget moons Vulcan. Then Shatner got “Spork– I mean Spock” Nimoy on board, and Vulcan quickly overcame all other Greek/Roman contenders to rocket up the charts to Number One With a Bullet.

But it seems the confluence of public and private interests is proving too much for the International Astronomical Union <—[link], the organization of academics tasked with the final naming decision. After what must have been months of head-slapping “What do we do now?” backroom meetings, the IAU have determined that with the various Star Trek franchise players now in the mix, and the kind of sway they hold over public opinion, “Vulcan” simply can’t be a name given to any body in our own solar system.

Conflict of interest? Refusal to bow to cheesy self-promoters like Shatner? (I love him, yes, but also love to hate him. He can be really annoying, right?)

Whatever is going on– and despite the linguistic/scientific legitimacy of Vulcan (Roman god of volcanoes)– the call to go with Kerberos (even over potentially better, more poetic prospects than “Vulcan”, like Sisyphus, which did okay in the voting also) is gutless and insulting. An especially bad choice, when there is already, in fact, an important near-Earth asteroid called Cerberus <–[link] orbiting our sun already!

My favorite part of the Pluto moons story involves the “bit player”, now getting a big “IAU BUMP” from this decision (to rip off Colbert… again…). Surprise beneficiaries of the decision are none other than the classic rock band Styx (also from Chicago, thank you very much).

Instead of summarizing, I’ll just have to give you what Styx co-founder and lead vocalist Tommy Shaw had to say for himself. Love the band or hate them, unless we take all this serious astronomical business with a sense of humor (which Shaw clearly does here), we’ll all go a bit nuts:

Here’s Shaw, gettin’ it done (again copped from the July 3 CNN story):

“Styx is proud to accept this new heavenly chart position as we add orbiting Pluto to our ever expanding touring map,” guitarist and songwriter Tommy Shaw told

“As always we have our fans to thank for it and I predict a new Styx T-shirt in the making!”

Ok, I give up. Styx and Kerberos it is. Score that Classic Rockers 1, Trekkies 0. (Or is it Trekkers? They keep changing it on me…)


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