The closest known alien planet beyond our solar system has a new unofficial name: Albertus Alauda.
That moniker won an online people's choice contest organized by space-funding company Uwingu to choose a more exciting, approachable name for the Earth-size alien planet Alpha Centauri Bb, a scorching-hot world that lies just 4.3 light-years away.
Jay Lark, who nominated "Albertus Alauda," said he chose the exoplanet name to honor his late grandfather.
"It is his name in Latin (Albert Lark)," Jay Lark wrote in his submission to the contest. "My grandfather passed away after a lengthy and valiant battle with cancer; his name in Latin means noble or bright and to praise or extol. I think this is an apt description as my grandfather was a noble man and bright of character, and in this nomination I wish to honour (extol) him." [Earth-Size Planet In Nearest Star System (Video)]
The Alpha Centauri Bb naming contest ran from March 19 through April 22. Proposing a name cost $4.99, while voting for one cost $0.99. Uwingu (whose name means "sky" in Swahili) will use the proceeds to fund grants in space exploration, education and research, which is the company's chief purpose, officials said.
"Albertus Alauda" came out on top with 751 votes, scoring Jay Lark a commemorative plaque, a 12-month subscription to Astronomy Magazine, a shout-out on the Uwingu website and a phone call from Uwingu CEO (and former NASA science chief) Alan Stern and famed planet-hunter Geoff Marcy, an adviser for the company.
"Rakhat" and "Caleo" came in second and third place, garnering 684 and 622 votes, respectively.
The contest found its way into the headlines two weeks ago, after the International Astronomical Union issued a press release stressing its authority as the sole arbiter of the exoplanet-naming process and reminding readers that it's impossible to buy an "official" name. While Uwingu wasn't mentioned by name, the release seemed aimed at the Alpha Centauri Bb competition.
Stern and other Uwingu officials fought back, saying the company had always maintained that the contest aimed to pick a popular or common name, not an "official" IAU one.
The Alpha Centauri Bb contest, and Uwingu's related "Baby Planet Name Book," are meant to get people excited about science and astronomy while also raising money for research and education, said Stern, who also leads NASA's New Horizons mission, which will fly by Pluto in 2015.
"We're engaging the public with the sky and astronomy in a way that's never been possible before," Stern told SPACE.com. "And it's for a good cause."