"Nushagak" and "Mulchatna" chosen as finalists for star and exoplanet naming competition

According to NASA, HD 17156 b is a gas giant exoplanet that orbits a F-type star. Its mass is 3.51 Jupiters, it takes 21.2 days to complete one orbit of its star, and is 0.16278 AU from its star. Its discovery was announced in 2007, and it could be called Mulchatna if a naming proposal goes through. (Image from NASA)
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - When Ivory Adajar, a lifelong fisherman in Bristol Bay, looked for inspiration for a name for a solar system 255 light-years away, she didn’t have to look very far.

“I chose the Nushagak because it was my home and because I grew up fishing in this abundant river,” she said.

Adajar’s selection of the name “Nushagak” for a star in the Cassiopeia constellation and “Mulchatna” for an exoplanet, were recently selected as top-ten finalists for the celestial bodies by a committee of top-level astronomers from around the country.

The competition was set off when the International Astronomical Union tasked each country’s astronomical governing body the task of naming a star and an exoplanet, and seven members of the naming committee selected ten top names that were supposed to be open-ended enough to allow for adding more names to the solar system using the same principles.

Adajar said she considered suggesting the names of other river systems or the names of five types of salmon, before settling for Nushagak and Mulchatna and saved those ideas for later.

But the names weren’t just random selections from the map of Bristol Bay; they were carefully selected based on the characteristics of the rivers and the star and exoplanet. The Nushagak was named after one of the largest chinook and sockeye salmon rivers in Alaska. The Mulchatna is a tributary of the Nushagak, just like the exoplanet orbits its star.

The selection of the name Mulchatna has an even more intricate origin story. First of all, Mulchatna “just has a really cool interstellar name,” according to Adajar.

Photo courtesy of Ivory Adajar

But the name also is following the description of the exoplanet which is said to have an irregular orbit.

“That made me think of wild salmon that wiggles and has their eccentric path into the ocean and come back. So that was similar to the nature of the exoplanet,” said Adajar.

And there is a third reason for choosing the name Mulchatna.

“It's connected to an area of land that's compromised by mining. So the fear of losing this wondrous natural habitat and passage for our only resource of natural salmon - I couldn't think of a better way to honor my culture and heritage,” she said.

By that, Adajar is referring to the proposed Pebble Mine, which would be built in the headwaters of the Mulchatna and which critics say would threaten commercial and subsistence salmon fishing.

“I thought that at least if we might not have this in the future, it would be a great indigenous name for these plants and the star,” said Adajar, who is a member of the Curyung Tribal Council.

Public voting for the top-three closes on Nov. 14 and a winnter will be announced in mid-December. You can vote by following this here.

Ivory Adajar fishing in Bristol Bay (Photo courtesy of Ivory Adajar)

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