Science & Technology

Help NASA Pick a Name for the Farthest Object We've Ever Tried to Reach in Space

The little probe that brought us the closest we've ever been to Pluto has another ground-breaking mission around the corner. But it needs your help. On January 1, 2019, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is expected to make it to a tiny object way out in the Kuiper Belt. Here's where you come in: NASA needs your help in naming the new world. We think "Curiosityisthebestplaceonthewholeinternet" has a nice ring to it, no?

A Whole New World

The New Horizons spacecraft snagged headlines when it flew by Pluto in 2015. But in 2019, it'll fly by the farthest object we've ever attempted to reach in space: an object called "(486958) 2014 MU69", or "MU69" for short. This world is small, cold, and sitting right on the outer frontier of our solar system. New Horizons will set a space exploration record when it meets its target on January 1, 2019.

Oh, but this distant world might actually be two. Preliminary observations show us that MU69 might be a binary: two astronomical bodies clumped together by mutual gravitational forces. If they're a "contact binary," that means the piece big hunks of space stuff are touching. Guess we won't know 'till we get there!

Say My Name, Say My Name

For such an exciting occasion, the end destination doesn't have a very thrilling name. For this reason, NASA is turning to the public to give MU69 a cool nickname. From now until December 1, 2017, you can cast your vote right here to help choose a name. Some of the options so far include the following: Peanut, Almond, Cashew; Olaf; Huginn & Muninn; Año Nuevo; and Pluck & Persistence. If you're not loving the options so far, nominate a new one you think would be better.

The New Horizons team and NASA will review the best ideas and announce the official selection in early January 2018. After we learn more about the object from the MU69 flyby, the New Horizons team and NASA will work with the International Astronomical Union to assign a formal name to MU69.

The New Horizons folks hope to go with a name "that captures the excitement of the flyby and awe and inspiration of exploring this new and record-distant body in space," said Alan Stern, principal investigator for the New Horizons team, in a statement. The pressure's on. Get out there and vote!

What Has New Horizons Taught Us About Pluto?

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. The New Horizons launch was the fastest spacecraft launch in history. 00:54

  2. Pluto's famous "heart" is called Tombaugh Regio after the astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930. 02:17

  3. Pluto gets its brownish-red color from compounds called tholins. 03:39

Written by Joanie Faletto November 14, 2017