2019-02-28 09:54:53

A prominent astronomer has called out Geely for misleading the public after the Chinese automaker claimed to have discovered a new “planetoid” within the Earth’s solar system.

“This is very likely a hoax,” Zhu Jin, curator of the Beijing Planetarium, told state-run newspaper Science and Technology Daily on Thursday.

Last Friday, Geely posted a photo of an application it submitted to the International Astronomical Union to name a planetoid — a term generally applied to small planets and large asteroids — that it claimed to have discovered on Feb. 10 in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The name the company proposed was that of its latest sport utility vehicle, the Xingyue, which roughly translates to “surpassing the stars.”

A wave of online backlash quickly followed Geely’s announcement. Liu Boyang, a researcher at the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, pointed out on Weibo that it typically takes at least five years for a newly discovered planetoid to be approved and granted a permanent serial number, because it must first be observed multiple times and have the parameters of its orbit confirmed. Only when this laborious work is complete, Liu explained, can such bodies be named — therefore, even if a planetoid were discovered in 2019, it would be impossible to officially name in just a matter of weeks.

And according to Zhu of the Beijing Planetarium, planetoids cannot be named for commercial purposes. “The so-called application form that the company shared has no academic authority,” he said. Many netizens, meanwhile, have gone a step further and described the case as a poorly conceived marketing stunt.

Naming planets has become something of a trend in China in recent years. In September 2017, fans of the Chinese boy band TFBoys bought the naming rights to 18 planetoids and named them all “WJK” to celebrate the 18th birthday of the band’s fresh-faced frontman, Wang Junkai. At the time, the International Astronomical Union responded to the news by saying that the fans were simply amusing themselves.

Then in the summer of 2018, Chinese media reported that four planetoids had been named after four Hong Kong celebrities, including actor Andy Lau and singer Leslie Cheung.

Geely has not publicly responded to the recent backlash. When reached by Sixth Tone on Thursday, company spokesperson Ash Sutcliffe said, “The [naming] process is ongoing, and we don’t have any updates at this stage.”

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Promotional photos of Geely’s new sport utility vehicle, the Xingyue. From @孙杨 and @吉利汽车官方微博 on Weibo)