Challenge: Help NASA Find A Wicked Nickname For New Horizons’ Future Target

If you’re somewhat of a word whiz, or maybe you’re just feeling a bit creative, you might want to check this out: NASA is looking for help in coming up with an awesome nickname for New Horizons’ next flyby target.

The agency’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper belt will begin 2019 by reaching a new important milestone. This time, the New Horizons spacecraft is headed well beyond Pluto, 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) past the dwarf planet, to be exact. Its destination: a cold and distant world at the edge of our solar system — the farthest it’s ever gone to and “the most remote world ever explored by humankind.”

New Horizons is scheduled to zoom past this thrilling target — a small, frozen world lying more than 4 billion miles (6.5 billion kilometers) away from our planet, in the Kuiper belt — on January 1, 2019. At the moment, the spacecraft’s memorable destination goes by the utterly forgettable name of “(486958) 2014 MU69,” “MU69” for short. That’s the official designation for New Horizon’s next flyby target, and it doesn’t do it justice. (Well, they’re NASA, they’re not Shakespeare.)

But the New Horizons team is eager to spice it up, and so they’re asking the general public for help in giving a more imaginative nickname to this mysterious new destination. To that effect, NASA is launching a public campaign aimed at finding a temporary name for New Horizons’ next flyby target.

The campaign is open to everyone, the space agency touted, and is being hosted by the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, California. Anyone is welcome to pitch in, said campaign leader Mark Showalter, New Horizons team member and a fellow at the institute.

“We are hoping that somebody out there proposes the perfect, inspiring name for MU69,” Showalter explained in a NASA news release.

Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and the mission’s principal investigator, also chimed in about the significance of MU69 in the New Horizons adventure and how important it is to find it a more suitable nickname.

“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.”

Those who wish to take up the challenge can visit the campaign link (listed above), where they can check out the nicknames already in the running, vote for their favorites or submit their own proposals to be added to the ballot.

The campaign to find a temporary name for MU69 will remain open until December 1, at 3 p.m. EST/noon PST. At the end of the campaign, the most voted proposals will be reviewed and the winner will be announced at the beginning of January.

Since telescopic observations of New Horizon’s next target suggest MU69 may not be a single object, but, in fact, a pair of bodies, either orbiting next to each other or stuck together, NASA and the New Horizons team might end up choosing more than one nickname.

The selected proposal(s) will become MU69’s informal name(s) — how the flyby target will be referred to until New Horizons pays it a visit in 2019. Once the spacecraft zooms past it and gathers more information about the new world, NASA and the mission team plan to “work with the International Astronomical Union to assign a formal name to MU69.”

“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” says Showalter.

[Featured Image by Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock]