It feels like astronomers are finding new exoplanets (planetary bodies outside of our native solar system) all the time in their quest for potential Earth-like worlds. Just a few years ago, we’d only indirectly observed a handful, and, until 1992, as far as we knew, they existed only in theory. According to the never-wrong stewards of Wikipedia, we’re now up to “1885 planets in 1184 planetary systems including 477 multiple planetary systems” as recently as yesterday.
Earlier this week, scientists reported discovering an exoplanet (J1407b) with Saturn-like rings for the first time ever. Except these rings are so massive, if they were around Saturn, we’d see them dwarf the moon in Earth’s night sky. They’re thought to be at least 200 times the sizes of Saturn’s banded system.
Truly, then, a Lord of the Rings. I’d first thought we should name this planet Gandalf, but Tolkien, having created a marvelous literary world influencing the lives and work of millions, deserves a real world named for him. Such a move is not without precedent: the International Astronomical Union honored the literary giant (a Saturn for sure, if not a Jupiter) with Mercury’s Tolkien Crater. In 1982, astronomer M. Watt named a newly discovered asteroid for Tolkien and a second after Bilbo Baggins.
People have talked for years about naming one of Pluto’s moons Mickey. Fears of a dawning Starbucks Nebula mounting, a Tolkien namesake is so much less corporate than all of that.
Get it done, science.
Get it done, overlapping science and Tolkien fandom. There should be a petition. Like this one.