NASA Wants Us To Name A New Space Object, What Could Possibly Go Wrong

Rocky McRockface anyone?

Cast your mind back to simpler times - it was April 2016 and all Britain had to worry about was the fact we had just named a polar research vessel Boaty McBoatface.

The Arctic explorer, worth a huge £200,000,000, was almost given the charming moniker after the naming process was left in the hands of the UK public.

Now, less than twelve months later, it seems that scientists have forgotten about said incident, as NASA are asking people to name a new space object.

NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Carlos Hernandez

On New Year’s Day 2019, the New Horizons spacecraft will be passing by a frozen world in the Kuiper Belt, located at the outer edge of our solar system.

The spacecraft is on the lookout for an object currently known as (486958) 2014 MU69. Really catchy.

So instead of continuing with this, frankly terrible name, NASA decided to ask the public for help in renaming the object, before the mission begins.

Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “We’re excited for the public to help us pick a nickname for our target that captures the excitement of the flyby and awe and inspiration of exploring this new and record-distant body in space.”

The voting website currently includes names under consideration and site visitors can pick their favourite.

Some include Año Nuevo (meaning New Year in Spanish), Camalor (fictional city in the Kuiper Belt, Peanut, Almond, Cashew, Sagittarius (constellation behind MU69), Kibo (peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro) and Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer).

You can also nominate a name you think should be added to the ballot.

In need of some more inspiration? Consider that MU69 is more than 4 billion miles from Earth, and is likely to be orbiting pair or a contact (stuck together) pair of nearly like-sized bodies. Let your imagination run free.

Although, be warned this is only a temporary name.

As the official naming process will begin once the spacecraft finds the object and works out if it is a single body, a binary pair or perhaps a system of objects. The nickname is only to be used in the interim period.

Mark Showalter, member of the New Horizons science team, said: “Many Kuiper Belt Objects have had informal names at first, before a formal name was proposed. After the flyby, once we know a lot more about this intriguing world, we and NASA will work with the International Astronomical Union to assign a formal name to MU69.”

The campaign will close at 3 o’clock EST/noon PST on 1 December 2017, and NASA will review the top choices and announce their selection in early January.


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