Rembrandt and van Gogh Masterpieces Inspire Names for a Planet and Star

Vincent van Gogh, “Starry Night” (via Wikimedia Commons)

While you might find the art of Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent van Gogh together in a museum, some of their masterpieces have now inspired the names for a planet and star. On Tuesday, December 17, NL Times announced the Dutch winners of a contest to rename the star currently known as HAT-P-6 and its neighboring exoplanet, HAT-P-6-b, to “Night Watch” and “Starry Night,” respectively. The winners were chosen by a public vote and confirmed by the International Astronomy Union, the organization in charge of naming the planets and standardizing them for stargazers and astronomers around the world. Discovered in 2007, the star and its planet are around 910 light-years away in the Andromeda constellation. However, the planet should be visible to anyone with a small telescope.

According to DutchNews.nl, the Netherlands was one of over 100 countries permitted to name a planet to celebrate the IAU’s centennial. The organization doesn’t usually open up its naming rights to so many at once — this is only the second time they’ve held such a public naming contest after a much smaller scale event in 2015. The purpose of their centennial campaign was to “create awareness of our place in the universe.” A full list of new planetary names can be found on the IAU’s website.

So while the art world can rejoice in a galactic victory, it turns out Rembrandt and van Gogh’s works were only the second most popular choices chosen by the public. The contest originally drew the names of Nijntje and Moederpluis, two of the names in Dick Bruna’s series of cartoon rabbits. However, because of copyright laws, the bunnies’ name could not be given to the heavenly bodies, so Rembrandt and van Gogh’s works will go up in their stead.

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