URSA MAJOR — Thailand has laid claim to a place among the stars in the form of a villainous crocodile king who has ascended from myth and legend to burn brightly in the heavens.
From this day on, a star located relatively close to our own sun will be known as Chalawan, the International Astronomical Union announced today, making it the first celestial body with a Thai name. It was among 45 objects outside the solar system to receive new names today.
Formerly called 47 Ursae Majoris, the star is located in the Ursa Major, or Great Bear, constellation, which are known as the “Crocodile Stars” in Thailand. It is orbited by three Jupiter-like planets and, according to its Wikipedia page, is similar enough to our sun that it made NASA’s top-100 list of systems which may contain terrestrial planets similar to Earth.
The name “Chalawan” won seventh place in a contest of names submitted by 13 countries including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Morocco, Syria, France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Australia, Japan and Thailand.
Between August and October, the vote drew 573,242 votes from the public to name 14 stars and 31 planets in 20 systems in the Universe.
Follow this map to visit the Chalawan system. Image: Torsten Bronger / Wikimedia Commons
Located less than 46 light years away, the 6 to 9 billion year old star with the fancy new Thai name also has three planets, two of which also received new Thai names drawn from folklore, as proposed by the Thai Astronomical Society. Ursae Majoris B will now be called Taphao Thong, and Ursae Majoris C will be called Taphao Kaew. Ursae Majoris D will remain unnamed.
The three names are characters from the legend of “Krai Thong.” Chalawan was the crocodile king who kidnapped Taphao Thong to make her his wife, while Taphao Kaew is her older sister.
The folk tale was partly composed by King Rama II and later became folklore in Pichit province, where the story is set.