Astronomers are discovering a lot of planets these days. The official count is 800+, with thousands of more candidates (unconfirmed but suspiciously planet-like).
Right now we give them alphabet soup names. Alpha Centauri Bb. HR 8799b (through HR8799 e). And of course, everyone’s favorite, 2MASS J04414489+2301513b.
These catalog names are useful, but less than public friendly. In science fiction we get Vulcan, Psychon, Arrakis, and other cool names. So why not in real life?
The folks at Uwingu asked themselves this very thing. Uwingu (pronounced oo-WIN-goo) is an astronomy and space startup company that’s looking to fund scientific research and exploration. I wrote an intro to Uwingu back when it was soliciting funds to get initially rolling (happily, that goal was met). The idea is to sell goods and services to space enthusiasts, and use the proceeds toward doing real science. The folks in charge are professional astronomers and space scientists at the tops of their fields, people like Alan Stern and Pamela Gay. Full disclosure: I am on the Board of Advisors for Uwingu, an unpaid position, but I’d write about it and support it anyway. These are top-notch scientists behind the project.
What does this have to do with the letter and number salad that is the current state of exoplanet names? As their first foray, the folks at Uwingu decided to let people create a suggested names list for these planets. For $0.99 a pop, you can submit a name you like to the database, and for another $0.99 you can vote for your favorite in the current list. I’ll note these names are not official – they are not assigned to specific planets, and only the International Astronomical Union can make these official (and mind you, they’re the ones who so elegantly handled the Pluto not being a planet issue (yes, that’s sarcasm)). But, these names will be seen by planetary astronomers, and eventually those planets are going to need names. Why not yours?
I think this is a fun idea. There are currently nearly a hundred names in the database as I write this, but it’s expected to grow rapidly. If you think there should be a Q’onoS, Abydos, or even Alderaan – in memoriam, of course – then head over to Uwingu.
A group of top-notch research scientists got the idea that we need a way for people to directly fund space and scientific research. They created Uwingu – Swahili for "sky" – a project where they provide services and goods for people, and the money made goes toward furthering exploration. The project needs $75,000 to get started (server costs, salaries, and so on), and so an IndieGoGo funding drive (much like KickStarter) was started.
The fundraising drive ends at midnight Pacific time tonight, Monday night (08:00 Tuesday morning UTC). As I write this, it still needs about $7500 to meet the goal.
Full disclosure: I am officially on the Board of Advisors (a volunteer, unpaid position) for this project. At the current time, we don’t want to reveal everything we have planned to raise money for research once the seed money is achieved, but the ideas I have heard are solid and worth pursuing. Also, the people involved really are good folks, and personal friends of mine: Alan Stern (head cheese of the New Horizons Pluto probe, former Associate Administrator of science for NASA, and someone who has experience getting grass-roots projects for funding science off the ground), planet hunter extraordinaire Geoff Marcy, educator Pamela Gay, space historian and author Andy Chaikin, and other seriously talented folks. You can see the list of everyone involved on the Uwingu IndieGoGo page.
I met with Alan Stern yesterday and we talked some specifics, and again while I cannot reveal anything here just yet, I’m confident the ideas behind Uwingu are good ones, and can help scientific research. We already have groups involved like SETI, Planetary Resources (the asteroid mining people), Lockheed-Martin, Ball Aerospace, and XCOR Aerospace. And once Uwingu is up and running the first planned funding will go to the SETI Allen Telescope Array.
If you want more info, Dr. Stern is scheduled to be on Coast to Coast AM radio tonight to talk about Uwingu, while there’s still a couple of hours left in the campaign. I’ve also written about Uwingu in an earlier post if you need more.
Thanks for your help. We need it.
Uwingu is an interesting idea: an effort by space scientists to fund space exploration and research using a for-profit basis. I’ve written about them before (please click that for details and info) and trust the people involved enough to promote them even though some details are yet to be revealed. I’ll note they’ve asked me to participate in the group in some functions, which I wouldn’t do if I didn’t trust them!
They need to raise $75,000 as a start-up base to do a lot of the work they’re planning, and the campaign is in its last week; it ends Friday. If you’d like to contribute and be a part of this, please do so!
They’ve been able to gather some big name companies, like Planetary Resources – the group planning on mining asteroids – and they’ve announced the first project they’ll fund is SETI’s Allen Telescope Array, a project in critical need of cash if it’s to keep going.
I think Uwingu is a fascinating idea, and I’m glad to be a part of it. I hope you’ll be a part of it too.
Space science is in a tight spot today. Much of it is funded by NASA and NSF, and both are facing very large cuts in the 2013 US budget.
So what’s a space and science enthusiast to do? If you’re Alan Stern – head honcho of the Pluto New Horizons probe and longtime scientific researcher- you start a new company that’ll fund space science by engaging the public.
So he did. The company is called Uwingu – Swahili for "sky" – and the team includes several top-notch scientists like Geoff Marcy, Andy Chaikin, Emily CoBabe-Ammann, Pamela Gay, Mark Sykes, and many others.
The idea is to create space-related products the public will like such as games, software, and merchandise. They’ll then sell them and use the profits to fund scientific research. People will be able to submit proposals for the funding, which will be peer reviewed to ensure high-quality work. And it’s not just research: they hope to fund space-based projects, education, and other science-supporting ventures.
Right now they’re just starting it up, and they need cash to get it rolling – getting an accountant, paying for server support, and the like. They’ve calculated that they need $75,000 to get it started (none of them is taking any pay until they’re up and running), so they created an Indigogo page for donations. Once they get Uwingu started, they’re confident they will be able to get money from bigger investments and really dig into funding projects. They expect to raise millions of dollars this way.
At the moment they’re not giving out specifics about the sorts of merchandise and apps they’ll have, because they’re trying to build a little suspense. However, I’ll note that half the people on their team are a) great scientists and good people, and 2) personal friends of mine. I trust them. If they say they can do this, then they can do this. If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t be posting about it.. and I just donated, too, so I’m putting my money where my keyboard is! They have nearly $13,000 as I write this (one person just donated $5000!), and a month or so left on the campaign.
The team also made a short introductory video:
In fact, Pamela interviewed Alan at length about Uwingu for Science Hour, which has far more info.
I hope you’ll consider donating to Uwingu. It’s a pretty bold idea, and one I think is worth exploring.