Cree names submitted by Alberta teacher for planet and star win national contest

After being short-listed by an expert panel and voted on publicly, an Alberta teacher beat out hundreds of other submissions to name an exoplanet and star.

Amanda Green is a junior high school science teacher in Beaumont.

“Those who know me know me as the space lady,” she said. “I love everything space and I weave themes of space into my classroom, into my teachings, into my life.”

So when she heard about a contest run by the Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA) and International Astronomical Union (IAU), she jumped at the chance to enter.

People were asked to submit names for two stellar bodies referred to as star HD136418 and its exoplanet HD136418b. Just one naming pair would be chosen for Canada.

“One of the things I thought was really important was to not only think about space and the future — things that were personal to me — but also kind of honoring our past and our history.”

“And so, naming a star for Canada, I thought it would be really good to use a First Nations, Metis or Inuit vocabulary or words. I chose Cree, which is common here in Alberta,” Green said.

She decided to submit the Cree words for “mother” and “child.”

“I’m a mother and I know my children are the centre of my universe.

“Just the idea of family was really important for Canada. So, Nikâwiy, which is the star, and orbiting around it, looking for its light, is the child, Awasis.”

The star is approximately 340 light-years from the Earth in the constellation Bootes, and has a temperature similar to the Sun’s.

The planet is a gas giant, with a diameter that is 1.2 larger than Jupiter’s diameter. The planet takes 464.3 Earth-days to orbit the star at a distance that is 1.3 times farther away than the Earth’s distance from the Sun. Since the planet is a gas giant it probably isn’t habitable by life similar to ours. But if the planet has a moon with an atmosphere, the moon could possibly have an Earth-like climate.

The names were shortlisted by an expert panel, which included noted Cree educator Wilfred Buck.

He was immediately drawn to Green’s suggestions.

“We changed one and then we looked at the other one and said, ‘OK, this looks good, looks like a good match.’ That’s Nikâwiy and Awasis. Nikâwiy is mother. Awasis is child.”

Buck was thrilled when he heard the Cree names were chosen.

“I think that’s pretty awesome. It just makes so much sense because we are star people and we come from the stars.

“The first one here was ‘Atchakosuk’, star woman, which is mother. She was the first one, and through her, we all come to here, this place.”

Green is honoured that her collaboration with Buck resulted in a winning submission that will forever be written in the stars.

“This is a really great thing for Canada — that we can honour our past and our history and the First Nations people, while also kind of looking forward to the future, and our values of science and technology, math, engineering, but also family and culture and all of that together is just this beautiful thing,” she said.

“It’s really great to be a part of it.”

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