The next time you look up at the night sky and see a blinking star, chances are you are staring at Gumala, a star in the southern constellation of Sagittarius.
Brunei Darussalam was among the 112 countries that took their love for astronomy to the next level when it entered a competition by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to name recently-discovered exoplanets and their stars.
The campaign, dubbed the IAU100 NameExoWorlds, was held to mark the organisation’s 100th year anniversary and attracted over 780,000 entries.
The participants were encouraged to name their celestial objects in their respective languages in conjunction with the United Nations’ (UN’s) International Year of Indigenous Languages.
IAU, the only organisation mandated to name everything in space, said the star was named Gumala and the exoplanet Mastika, thanks to the participation of Bruneian Pengiran Mohammad Rezal bin Pengiran Haji Osman.
The word gumala derives from local Malay dialect that means a magical bezoar gemstone found in mythical creatures such as dragon, while mastika means “the most beautiful gemstone”.
Pengiran Mohammad Rezal, who works at the Agriculture and Agrifood Department under the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism (MPRT), said he drew his inspiration for the NameExoWorlds from Brunei’s precious stones.
“I chose to name the celestial duo in accordance with their characteristics – they shine far and full of mystery,” he said.
He admitted however to not being an expert in astronomy. He came to know about the campaign through his siblings.
“My brothers and sisters also took part in the competition, but somehow, my entries received the most votes,” he said.
The Astronomical Society of Brunei Darussalam was responsible for narrowing down the entries, and it took to the virtual world where public votes were cast for their favourites.
Pengiran Mohammad Rezal’s names drew the most votes, at 7,832, with the help of a social media campaign to encourage public to cast a ballot.
“I was able to monitor the votes daily, and it was quite exciting to see other names scaling up the list,” he said. “As they say, every vote counts!”
He hopes that the campaign had generated interest in astronomy in the country.
“It’s great to contribute something, not only at the national level but internationally, so Brunei’s name is on the world stage,” he said.
He believes that the contest will have a lasting impact on public consciousness as the winning names are used in parallel to the existing scientific terminology, thus showcasing local culture and heritage.
“I think while it’s important to understand the universe, we must also make the efforts to understand our own culture and heritage,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Astronomical Society of Brunei Darussalam is pleased to see the NameExoWorlds campaign generated a lot of public interest, especially when it comes to the opportunity to display the unique identity of Brunei.
“It is gratifying to see encouraging responses not only from the locals but also people across the globe, to draw from their cultures and heritages in naming the planetary system,” said a spokesperson from the organisation.
According to IUA, the newly named exoplanets are likely to be large gas giants, and all were discovered via one of two discovery methods: the transit method, where planets are observed to pass in front of their star and block a portion of the star’s light; and the radial velocity method, which involves careful measurement of a star’s spectrum to reveal it to be wobbling back and forth under the influence of the gravity of its planets.
The IAU campaign was the second time in history where a competition led to the naming of stars and exoplanets.