With the discovery of a rocky, roughly earth-sized planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B, not only are we that much closer to video games coming to life, we may be faced with a question of what name we might assign to a planet roughly like our own. To date, largely only science fiction authors have had to confront this creative dilemma.
Being part of the Centauri system suggests naming the planets after mythological centaurs. The Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology names the following centaurs: Agrius, Amphion, Anchius, Argeius, Chiron, Daphnis, Doupon, Elatus, Eurytion, Hippotion, Homadus, Ispoples, Melanchaetes, Nephele, Oreius, Pholus, Phrixus, Silenus, and Thereus. All nice and Greek-sounding. Chiron, Daphnis, and Pholus are probably the most well-known of these. Many centaurs appear in myths about the labors of Hercules, as well.
Now, all of the named centaurs are male except for Nephele. Confusingly, one version lists Nephele as the name of the nymph who was the mother of the centaurs but not a centaur herself. So since almost all of the centaurs are male except for one, and since it’s quite likely that if there is a rocky planet in the (astronomically speaking) narrow zone in which liquid water on the surface is possible, perhaps the coincidence of exceptionality would suggest that such a “sweet spot” planet be named for this centaur also capable of bearing life (in the myth, anyway).
But there’s no particular reason why we’d have to go that route, as far as I can tell. It’s rather arbitrary that the multiple star system in which this planet (and presumably its as-yet-undetected sister planets) orbit is named for a centaur and the other stars in the the constellation are not necessary “near” one another in three-dimensional space. Would naming rights go to the scientist who discovered the planet? Perhaps name the planet after that scientist? There’s no entity with centralized authority here although most who involve themselves in such things seem to respect the International Astronomical Union and its naming conventions. Maybe to a corporate sponsor? “Pepsi Presents: The Colony at Alpha Centauri Bb-4. Alpha Centauri Bb-4: The Planetary Choice Of A New Generation!”
This is not exactly among the most pressing problems confronting our civilization at the moment, I know. But it’s a good deal less depressing than the ones that are.