NASA Invites You to Nickname a Mysterious Distant World

NASA has invited the public to suggest a nickname for the New Horizons mission's next flyby destination - a small, frozen world in the outer edge of our solar system. The tiny explorer's target is a Kuiper Belt object (KBO) called '(486958) 2014 MU69, ' or MU69 for short and NASA is inviting you to give it a nickname.

So that's where you come in.

On January 1, 2019, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, which flew past Pluto in July of previous year, will fly by MU69.

SETI's got a few members on the New Horizons team, and one of them, Mark Showalter, is spearheading the MU69 naming contest. The campaign to collect votes ends on December 1, 2017 and the victor will be announced in January 2018.

"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", Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement. The form, located at the bottom of the page, asks for one or more names, the reason behind the nomination and a link to more information about the submitted names.

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NASA also recommends submitting two or more names that go together, since preliminary observations have indicated that MU69 might be a binary, or two astronomical bodies harnessed together by their mutual gravitational forces.

Kuiper Belt is a disc-shaped region beyond Neptune's orbit that includes icy bodies, including dwarf planet Pluto. "Until then, we're excited to bring people into the mission and share in what will be an incredible flyby on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, 2019!" The campaign is open for voting by everyone, the report added. "We are hoping that somebody out there proposes the ideal, inspiring name for MU69", he added. "Our close encounter with MU69 adds another chapter to this mission's remarkable story". Many Kuiper Belt Objects have had informal names at first, before a formal name was proposed.

After the flyby, it will be given a formal name, dependant on what the probe finds. "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", said Alan Stern, the New Horizons principal scientist.

Until then, we're excited to bring people into the mission and share in what will be an wonderful flyby on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, 2019!

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