Israel names its first-ever planet ‘Alef’

The exoplanet is located 1,500 light years away from Earth.

 A view of the night sky.  (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A view of the night sky.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In a galaxy far far away, sits Israel’s new exoplanet, which will be named “Alef.”
The exoplanet, whose name was announced by the Ministry of Science and Technology earlier this week, won the hearts of the Israeli population, despite a distance of about 1,500 light years away from Earth.
As part of the International Astronomical Association 100th-anniversary celebration, several nations were given the chance to name planets and parent stars. The institution is the only one of its kind authorized to assign names to celestial bodies.
There were 1,600 proposals to name the exoplanet, which is the name for planet located outside of our solar system.
According to Itai Levy, education and community relations adviser of the Israel Space Agency, “the campaign was very successful – more than we originally expected when we first introduced it.”
“We invited the public to offer a name since thousands of planets don’t have names yet, only catalogue numbers,” he said. “We got 1,600 suggested names, and they were all very diverse and interesting, some had to do with history and biblical names, and people also made up new names with interesting explanations.”
Of the suggested names, a special panel picked just five names and it was one of these five names the Israeli public were then asked to vote on.
“The five names that were published for voting were Alef, Eden, Magen David, Hatikvah and Herzl, but Alef won a significant amount of the votes,” Levy said.
Explaining the meaning behind “Alef,” the Science and Technology Ministry said in a statement the word Alef has many meanings. “It’s the first letter in the Hebrew language, and also the letter considered as the mother of reading. In the world of Jewish mysticism, alef also signifies oneness with God.
The exoplanet’s catalogue name is HAT-P-9b.
For its parent star, the name Tevel was chosen. It’s a word that symbolizes the universe, and also the last letter in the Hebrew language.
The names were chosen as a way to symbolize completeness “and the genesis of Hebrew language and culture – it begins with an alef and ends with a taf,” Levy added.
Asked about the importance of getting the public involved in these endeavors, Levy said “generally speaking, it’s important to get the people involved since these matters affect our everyday lives even when we don’t notice or see it.
“Space exploration will become more and more important … so far 500 or 600 people have gone to space, but in the next decades we will see exponential growth,” he explained. “One day people will be able to go on a short trip or a vacation space, and we’re going to need a lot more scientists and engineers… to support these new ventures into space.”
Levy stressed their job “is to make sure that we have a next generation of professionals and it’s very important to have the public interested, especially the youth and kids.
“They need to know that this is something within their reach, that they can achieve, and they don’t have to be engineers or scientists,” he continued. “They can go to law school and do space law or study medicine and do space medicine.  Raising the public’s something that creates a sense of solidarity and of what we have in common.
“It promotes the good of our society and educational values,” Levy added.
Ofir Akunis, minister of science, technology and space, also welcomed the name choice.
In a statement, he said this was “an interesting and respectable choice by the Israeli public, who participated en masse to determine the name for the new planet of the State of Israel.
“This further proves that there is an increasing interest from huge audiences to make discoveries in the fields of science, technology and innovation,” Akunis said, adding these fields have been made more accessible to the public over the last four years “thanks to extensive investments.”