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New Names

February 19, 2016

Some folks who played important roles in the early days of the telescope line up not far from the Moon tonight. Galileo is there — the first scientist to study the heavens through a telescope. So is Hans Lippershey, who is often credited with inventing the telescope. And, fittingly enough, they all circle around Copernicus, who demonstrated that the Sun, not Earth, is at the center of the solar system.

The names were bestowed on the members of a system known as 55 Cancri, in Cancer, the crab, which spreads out to the lower left of the Moon this evening.

The system contains five known planets. They range from a few times the mass of Earth to a few times the mass of Jupiter, the largest planet in our own solar system.

Until last year, the main designations for those planets were the name 55 Cancri followed by a letter of the alphabet. So the planets were known as 55 Cancri b, c, d, e, and f. And those names will remain.

To jazz things up a bit, though, last year the International Astronomical Union held a contest to give proper names to the planets in several star systems. For 55 Cancri, it picked the suggestion made by a group in the Netherlands, and named the planets for people associated with the invention of the telescope and its early use.

And since 55 Cancri itself didn’t have a proper name, it was given one as well. So Galileo and the system’s other planets all orbit Copernicus — a star at the center of a busy planetary system.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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