Star, exoplanet named for Bristol Bay waters

On Earth the Nushagak is a famed Bristol Bay wild salmon river and the Mulchatna is a tributary. In the skies overhead now an intergalactic star and exoplanet bear the same names.

Those two names were submitted by Ivory Adajar, a Dillingham fish harvester of Central Yupik and Siberian Yupik descent and member of the Curyung Tribal Council in Bristol Bay.

Adajar learned early on Dec. 17 that she had won an international competition sponsored by The International Astronomical Union to name an intergalactic star and exoplanet.

“I was surprised,” Adajar said. “I just had a feeling I would be in the top three.”

Adajar, who fishes commercially in Bristol Bay with her father, Verner Wilson II, said she was scrolling through social media items on the Internet when she saw an opportunity catering to indigenous people “and I thought what could go wrong.”

In conjunction with its 100th anniversary, the IAU opened competition to indigenous people only to name a star designated for the United States, previously identified only as 17156, and an exoplanet.  The IAU advanced 10 finalists from 896 proposed names from around the United States that were voted on by the public. The top three selected by U.S. voters were then submitted to the IAU 100 Name Exoworlds Steering Committee to make the final choice, which was announced at a press conference in Paris on Dec. 17.

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“I chose the names Nushagak for a star and Mulchatna for an exoplanet after Earth’s greatest wild salmon river ecosystems that resembles the nature of the exoplanet’s orbit,” Adajar said. “The Mulchatna River connects to the famous Nushagak River, and these rich and historical salmon rivers have contributed greatly to our Alaskan outdoors natural culture. Our wild salmon are known for their wiggly, eccentric paths out to the ocean and back to freshwater. “We might not have this natural habitat and rich fisheries in the future, but we can have the star and exoplanet in honor of Alaska’s rich salmon culture and heritage.

“After winning this great honor, I plan to use it as a platform to help educate youth and others more about our beautiful starry sky above and the rich natural ecology of earth below,” she said.

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