To celebrate its 100th anniversary, the International Astronomical Union invited countries from around the world to name an “exoplanet” and its host star outside of the Milky Way galaxy. Over 4,000 planets have been found orbiting other stars, called exoplanets. As the planets are found, they are being catalogued with telephone like numbers, yet Eric Mamajek of the IAU states that “there has been growing interest amongst astronomers and the public alike in also assigning proper names, as is done for Solar System bodies.”
The IAU is the only official entity able to name celestial bodies, the invitation was sent to encourage public participation and curiosity. Over 780,000 people from 112 countries participated in the project, and Israel was among the top countries with the largest number of suggested names and people who participated, perhaps thanks to its elevated interest in space since its attempt to reach the moon with SpaceX.
The people of Israel submitted about 1,600 names to choose from, yet the winning name was Alef, the first letter in the Hebrew Alphabet, which has great symbolism within the many layers of Judaism. The star can’t be seen from earth and exists 1,500 lightyears away in the Auriga constellation, outside the Milky Way, scientifically known as HAT-P-9b. Alef’s mother star is called Tevel, which translates into “universe”, and begins with the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
In a statement, the Minister of Science, Technology and Space Ofir Akunis says “This is further proof of the increasing interest huge audiences discover in the fields of science, technology and innovation, which were made more accessible to the public in the last four years thanks to extensive investments.”