Think you are good at making nicknames? Read on, because NASA has an excellent opportunity for you. Scientists at NASA have started a campaign inviting the public to choose an informal name for the New Horizons mission’s next flyby destination, which is going to be the farthest planetary encounter in the history of spaceflight, the US space agency said on Tuesday.
On January 1, 2019, the New Horizons spacecraft will fly past a small, frozen world in the Kuiper Belt – 1.6 billion km past Pluto and at the outer edge of our solar system. The Kuiper Belt object (KBO) – currently named as “(486958) 2014 MU69” or MU69 – is more than 6.5 billion km from Earth.
As per telescopic observations, the MU69 is either a binary orbiting pair or a contact (stuck together) pair of nearly like-sized bodies with diametres near 20 and 18 km. NASA and the New Horizons team have sought public’s help in giving “MU69” a nickname to use for this exploration target, the report said.
“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. We’re pleased to bring the public along on this exciting mission of discovery,” Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement.
“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,” added Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
Once the flyby mission gets over, NASA will choose a formal name based in part on whether MU69 is found to be a single body, a binary pair, or perhaps a system of multiple objects, the space agency said. The campaign, open to the public, will close at 3 pm on December 1. NASA and the New Horizons team will review the top vote-getters and announce their selection in early January.
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