Although science fiction films have led us to believe that the future could be full of amazing new planets with dramatic names like Vulcan and Tatooine, the current reality is that most new planets are designated by boring letters and numbers that are hardly recognizable to the general public. In what represents a major reversal of policy, the official body with the responsibility for naming new planets has just decided to open up the naming process to the public.
Founded back in 1919 and currently headquartered in France, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) works with astronomers and various organizations around the world to assign names to celestial bodies. But in an announcement made this week, the IAU has decided that it is time to invite the public, as well as organizations, to contribute to the naming process of new planets.
The guidelines for submitting a name proposal are detailed, but the major points are fairly straightforward: names should be 16 characters or less, preferably one word, no commercial names allowed, animal names are discouraged, names of people or events are discouraged, no offensive language as part of a name, the name should be pronounceable in as many languages as possible, and the name should not be similar to an existing planet (so no "Earth 2," you know you were thinking it).
For some additional background on how this all works, take a look at the process that led to two newly discovered moons of Pluto being named Styx and Kerberos earlier this summer. However, for those thinking of delving into the world of science fiction to name new planets, the organization's guidelines state that the name "not subject to copyright royalties, as could be the case for names created in fiction works, like books, plays, movies…"
So, no, there probably won't ever be a real Cardassia or Ferenginar, at least not until those works fall into the public domain far into the future. Individual suggestions will be accepted via direct email, which you can access here.