OK, guys. It’s time to have a chat. In the wake of last week’s exoplanet discovery news, something a bit closer to home hangs in the balance. By combining data from two space observatories, it was found that a large dwarf planet called 2007 OR10 has been hiding out in our solar system, and – here’s the kicker – it needs a name.
Not only was it discovered that the celestial sphere is far larger than previously thought, but also that its surface is a red so deep it could poison a princess.
‘The results peg 2007 OR10 as the largest unnamed world in our solar system and the third largest of the current roster of about half a dozen dwarf planets,” says NASA. “The study also found that the object is quite dark and rotating more slowly than almost any other body orbiting our sun, taking close to 45 hours to complete its daily spin.”
Until now, scientists didn’t have enough information about 2007 OR10 to give it a permanent name. When it was first discovered in 2007 by astrophysicist Meg Schwamb, her then-advisor Mike “Pluto Killer” Brown nicknamed the object “Snow White,” suspecting it had broken off an icy dwarf planet known as Haumea, and as such, would possess a pale surface.
Given the recent discovery, it is with great pleasure that we bring you another option: a petition to dub the dwarf planet “R’hllor,” after the Game of Thrones Red God, also known as the Lord of Light.
Naming objects in space is a complicated process. However, it just so happens that the proposed name mostly satisfies the rules. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) – which acts as the governing body on these matters – requires that a space object’s name reflects its characteristics. Check. But there’s more.
“Dwarf planets tend to be a mysterious bunch,” explains NASA. “With the exception of Ceres, which resides in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, all members of this class of minor planets in our solar system lurk in the depths beyond Neptune.” The IAU requires that the names of all trans-Neptunian objects be derived from creator deities. Double check.
Pluto only escaped that name-game because of its former status as a planet. Save for Earth, all the planets in our solar system have names derived from Greek or Roman mythology. Pluto was the roman god of the underworld, and well, the night – 3.67 billion miles from the sun – is dark and full of terrors. (At least, that’s what we used to think. We now know that the sun on Pluto appears some 450 times brighter than our moon.)
Why so red?
Our best guess is that 2007-OR10’s coloration comes from ever-changing floes of methane ice on its surface, the same substance that gives the frozen veins of Pluto’s “heart” a bloody hue.
“It’s thrilling to tease out details like this about a distant, new world,” lead researcher András Pál of Kinkily Observatory said in a statement. “Especially since it has such an exceptionally dark and reddish surface for its size.”
The Red Lady’s R’hllor might have spawned from a fictional universe, but the name is undeniably fitting for the latest crimson object in the great-wide-forever. And plus, it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve taken inspiration from fantasy novels. Back in 2014, a trans-Neptunian object previously named 2003 MW12, was re-named “Varda” after the creator of the stars and principal goddess of the elves in Tolkien’s Legendarium.
In the end, the privilege of proposing a permanent name still falls to its discoverers, so we can only hope that Schwamb and Brown answer our plea.
“It’s great to see people passionate about 2007 OR10 receiving a proper name,” Schwamb told us via email. “Certainly novels should count as mythology, so if the Red God from the Game of Thrones series can satisfy that requirement, it may make a fine name!”
Go forth, fellow GoT nerds. Go forth, and make it so.
IMAGES: NASA, HBO, Baltasar Vischi/Flickr