NASA is sending an SOS. Help the agency come up with a new name for the next flyby destination of New Horizons.
Space may be the final frontier, but the likelihood of humans living in any of the planets in the solar system is still high up in the air. Fortunately, you can still be part of the universe if you get to assist NASA in renaming (486958) 2014 MU69. Also called MU69, it is a classic Kuiper Belt object (KBO) that will be the next target of New Horizons after Pluto.
“New Horizons made history two years ago with the first close-up look at Pluto, and is now on course for the farthest planetary encounter in the history of spaceflight,” Science Mission Directorate associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said.
With an event as special and significant as this, the agency wants everyone to be part of it.
New Horizons Naming Campaign
Before you start coming up with the oddest names, NASA is making sure it’s not going to be the next Boaty McBoatface.
SETI Institute in California is currently hosting the campaign with New Horizons science team member and fellow Mark Showalter leading it. Anyone who likes to give a name can send it to the site.
The team will then choose the best, and the selected names will be up for voting. The one with the most number of votes wins, although the final decision rests with the agency.
The campaign will end on Dec. 1 at noon Pacific Time, but the announcement of the winning name will be in early January 2018.
Not The Final Name
The chosen name, however, may not be formal or final. For one, NASA has to confirm whether MU69 is one or two objects orbiting each other. If it’s the latter, it may, therefore, need two names.
Moreover, it has to submit the name to the International Astronomical Union, which is responsible for the official designations of celestial bodies. This will take a much longer time since it won’t happen until New Horizons has already made a flyby on MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019. Nevertheless, until then, MU69 will use its newly selected name.
One thing is for sure: this flyby will be historic.
Found at the edge of the solar system and past Neptune’s orbit, the Kuiper Belt, where MU69 is, is an icy region shaped like a disc. It is a vast space composed of trillions of KBOs, which may include comets and even dwarf planets.
The fascination to reach it stems from many factors including finding the elusive Planet Nine, which is believed to be 10 times bigger than Earth. The other, and perhaps the more important, is finding KBOs that could be leftovers of the solar system’s birth. It’s also possible to find objects that may have previously belonged to another system.