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South Africans can vote to name a new planet – and one of the short-listed names is a local plant that gets you high

Sarah Wild , Business Insider SA
 Nov 11, 2019, 06:49 AM
WASP-62 b (screenshot)
WASP-62 b (screenshot)
  • The International Astronomical Union has invited South Africans to vote on the new name for an exoplanet.
  • The planet WASP-62b and its host star WASP-62 were discovered using SuperWASP, one of the telescopes near the town of Sutherland in the Northern Cape.
  • There are four possible names for the planet, including “sceletium” a plant which induces euphoria.
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“This is your chance to name a whole world,” according to the International Astronomical Union’s “Name an Exoplanet” initiative. Voting is open to select a new name for the planet WASP-62b and its host star. Organisers are now calling for all people living in South Africa to choose which one they like best, since this was the country where it was discovered. 

WASP-62b is a giant gas, similar to Jupiter, and is so big that it could contain about 1,000 planet Earths. It orbits its star, WASP-62, every 4.4 days. The system is more than 570 light years away from us, and astronomers discovered it in 2012 using the SuperWASP telescope at the South African Astronomical Observatory’s Sutherland site.SuperWASP, which stands for Wide Angle Search for Planets, is a consortium that operates two telescopes, one in South Africa and one in the Canary Islands.

The “Name an Exoplanet” initiative has shortlisted four names for Wasp-62b and another four for its star, along with motivations for their suggestions.

  • Krotoa (planet) and Naledi (star)
  • Sceletium (planet) and Buchu (star)
  • Ingoma (planet) and Ubunye (star)
  • Gannaga (planet) and Roggeveld (star)

“Sceletium” and “Buchu” were put forward as a way to recognise the indigenous plants of the Sutherland region. “The theme chosen is fynbos of South Africa, as they are almost as numerous as the stars and as beautiful – a reflection of above, so to speak,” details the motivation. “Our fynbos is unique and diverse with broad applications – much like the South african people.”  

And one of those applications is inducing euphoria. Sceletium, which is found in the Northern Cape, is a succulent plant that acts on the central nervous system, and can get its user high. Historically, people chewed, smoked or used it as snuff, which produced feelings of euphoria. Today, it has been used to treat depression, drug dependence, and bulimia nervosa.

According to the South African National Biodiversity Institute, Buchu is part of the cultural heritage of the Khoi and San people, and the plant’s leaves steeped in brandy or vinegar were an essential component of Cape colonists’ medicine chests. It is used to treat a variety of ailments from stomach troubles to urinary tract infections.  

The deadline for voting is 14 November 2019.

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