On January 1, 2019 NASA’s New Horizon will visit (486958) 2014 MU69, a small frozen object in the Kuiper Belt, the region of materials at the edge of the Solar System where rocks and dwarf planets like Pluto and Eris live.
Even its short moniker, MU69, doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, so NASA is asking for your help to select a nickname for the object. You can either vote for one of the already available names or propose your own, which will be pre-selected by the New Horizon team. So the chances of Rocky McRockface or RIP Harambe are quite slim.
“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 in Washington, said in a statement. “We’re pleased to bring the public along on this exciting mission of discovery.”
The official name for the object will be proposed by the New Horizon team after the flyby of MU69 and it will likely be related to creation myths. This will be then reviewed and approved by the International Astronomical Union. Dwarf planets Eris and Makemake were called Xena and Easterbunny before their official designation.
“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,” New Horizons team member Mark Showalter, from the SETI Institute, added. “Until then, we’re excited to bring people into the mission and share in what will be an amazing flyby on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, 2019!”
This summer a special alignment between MU69 and a distant star allowed astronomers to learn a lot more about this object. It might be redder than previously thought and it might even be not just one object, it might be two. Whatever New Horizons will find, it will be extraordinary.
“New Horizons has always been about pure exploration, shedding light on new worlds like we’ve never seen before,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “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.”
To vote or propose names go to the Frontier Worlds website.