You can help NASA pick a nickname for a space rock at edge of solar system

NASA wants a handy nickname for a space object that currently goes by the designation ‘486958 2014 MU69’, also called MU69.

science Updated: Nov 07, 2017 20:00 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
NASA,MU69,2014 MU69
An artist’s conception of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flying by 2014 MU69 on January 1, 2019. (NASA/ JHUAPL/ SwRI/ Carlos Hernandez)

NASA is asking people to nominate names for a small, icy space object at the edge of the solar system.

The agency’s New Horizons spacecraft, which took the first images of Pluto from close in 2015, will fly past the frozen entity in the Kuiper Belt on January 1, 2019, NASA said in a statement.

Kuiper Belt is a disc-shaped region beyond Neptune’s orbit that includes icy bodies, including dwarf planet Pluto.

The space object NASA wants to name currently goes by the designation ‘486958 2014 MU69’, also called MU69. But the New Horizons team now wants a nickname till they decide a formal name for MU69 after the flyby, which will be given to the International Astronomical Union. IAU decides the names for celestial objects such as planets, asteroids, stars among other bodies.

The agency also said it isn’t sure if MU69 -- discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope and estimated to be 6.5 billion kilometers from Earth --is a single entity or two.

“The campaign is open to everyone,” said Mark Showalter, a member of the New Horizons team. “We are hoping that somebody out there proposes the perfect, inspiring name for MU69.”

New Horizon had spotted MU69 from a remote area of Argentina as the space rock passed near a star, blocking its light briefly, a report in The Verge said. The short eclipse -- called occultation -- gave astrologists an idea that MU69 could be shaped like a rubber duck or simply comprise of two rocks.

“Our close encounter with MU69 adds another chapter to this mission’s remarkable story. 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.

The last date for submitting a name for MU69 is December 1, 3pm EST (1:30am in Indian Standard Time, December 2).

You can make your nominations on this website hosted by SETI Institute of Mountain View, California.

In July 2015, Nasa’s New Horizons spacecraft got humanity’s first up-close look at Pluto after a 9½ year journey, when Pluto was still considered a full-fledged planet.

First Published: Nov 07, 2017 17:45 IST