An image of Jupiter, not Tajikistan. (NASA via AP)

Tajikistan, a Central Asian former Soviet republic, has announced that a small planet in the solar system has been renamed. The planet's new name? Tajikistan.

The news, first reported by the Tajik state news agency Khovar, was announced Tuesday at a ceremony to mark the annual Day of Knowledge. According to Khovar, the planet had been renamed "as the result of significant contribution of the Tajik scientist in the development of world astrophysics and studying of space substances."

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon in 2011. (Dieter Nagl/AFP via Getty Images)

During the ceremony, a certificate from a body called the International Astrophysicists Union proclaiming the new name of the planet was handed to the president of Tajikistan (the country), Emomali Rahmon, by Farhod Rahimi, the president of the Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan. Khovar reports that Tajikistan (the planet) is located "between the planets of Mars and Jupiter" and that it "rotates around the Sun once in five years." The planet is currently at a close distance to Earth, according to Khovar, so Tajik scientists have begun to study it.

This appears to be the second planet renamed by Tajikistan this year. In January, the country renamed a planet after Tajik scientist Gulchekhra Kokhirova, according to the AKIpress news agency.

Despite the details given by Khovar, there are some serious doubts about the claim, including whether such a planet even exists. Also, as Eurasianet notes, online searches for the International Astrophysicists Union, the body that Khovar says renamed the planet, yield no results. Another similarly named organization, the International Astronomical Union (IAU), made no mention of it on its Web site and did not return a request for comment.

Rick Fienberg, a press officer at the American Astronomical Society, shed some light on the matter. In the latest list of the IAU's Working Group on Small Bodies Nomenclature — an internationally recognized body that attaches names to asteroids — he was able to find an asteroid named "Tadjikistan" (note the letter "d" in the name). However, Fienberg also notes that the asteroid was discovered in 1970 and appears to have received its name at some point in the past — it is included on lists of asteroid names from 2002.

"About the only thing right in the Tajikistan news story is the fact that the object orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter," Fienberg explains in an e-mail.

While Tajik scientists may well have a big legacy in astrophysics, the post-Soviet era hasn't been kind to their country, a former industrial powerhouse. Many of its most able now travel abroad to find work, and remittances account for almost half of Tajikistan's national income. Under Rahmon, the country has been repeatedly criticized for its human rights record.

This isn't the first time that bold proclamations in Tajikistan's state media have prompted skepticism. In 2011, several Tajik news sites announced that Rahmon has been awarded the title of “Leader of the 21st Century" by the European Council on International Relations. As Eurasianet explained at the time, this obscure organization shouldn't be confused with the well-known think tank European Council on Foreign Relations.

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