Prof. Jason Wright has the story over at his blog. If you care about the actions of the IAU---in particular a potential abuse of procedure---please read the post in full and pass it along.
It all starts with a company called Uwingo that wants to sell the ability to propose exoplanet names (think of an exoplanet baby name book) in order to raise funding for exoplanetary science. As stated on the Uwingo site, "We’re asking the public to create a vast list of planet names for astronomers to choose from."
In a recent press release, the IAU responds:
In the light of recent events, where the possibility of buying the rights to name exoplanets has been advertised, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) wishes to inform the public that such schemes have no bearing on the official naming process. The IAU wholeheartedly welcomes the public’s interest to be involved in recent discoveries, but would like to strongly stress the importance of having a unified naming procedure.Interestingly, they do not name Uwingo specifically, but passive-agressively link to a star-naming site, most of which are clearly schemes meant to fool the public. Uwingo, by contrats, is run by astronomers and makes its intentions very clear.
The IAU has issued a statement regarding the naming of planets by a group called Uwingu that is misleading or inaccurate in several ways. Reading it, one could be forgiven for coming away believing that the IAU has given official names to planets, that these names can be found at exoplanet.eu, and that the commission responsible for this process has refused to consider Uwingu's names. All three implications are absolutely false.He goes on to list the problems with this statement
1) Contrary to the press release's implication, the IAU does not name planets.
2) Contrary to the press releases's assertion, there is no "official naming process."
3) Contrary to the press release's assertion, Commission 53 has not foreclosed the possibility of using Uwingu's names.
4) Contrary to the press release's implication, the press release does not and cannot describe official IAU policy.
5) Contrary to the press release's implication, Uwingu is not actually promising to give official names to or to sell naming rights to specific planets
Like I said, check out his full post for all of the details and implications. This is really strange...
What is also troubling is the "official" endorsement of one exoplanets site (exoplanet.eu) over another (exoplanets.org) apparently without consultation of the community, nor the IAU Commission 53 on Exoplanets. As Geoff Marcy wrote in an email:
The lack of consultation or vote by IAU members is particularly eyebrow-raising, as the two IAU co-signatories of the press-release reside in Paris, and the press release names exoplanets.eu as the catalog for exoplanets which comes from Observatoire de Paris. At the least, this coincidence of two authorities in Paris promoting a website in Pairs raises the appearance, if not reality, of political back-room motivations. Further, exoplanets.eu contains exoplanets not vetted by the IAU nor even published in many cases!Stay tuned!