There’s a small, icy object floating at the outer edge of our Solar System, in the messy Kuiper belt. Or it could be two objects, astronomers are not sure.
But NASA is on track to find out more, as that object has been chosen as the next flyby target for the New Horizons spacecraft – the same probe that gave us incredible photos of Pluto in 2015. And now they want your help to give that target a catchy name.
Currently, the enigmatic Kuiper belt object is designated 2014 MU69, but that’s just the provisional string of letters and numbers any newly discovered object gets.
“Yes, we’re going to give 2014 MU69 a real name, rather than just the “license plate” designator it has now,” New Horizons’ principal investigator Alan Stern wrote in a blog post earlier this year.
“The details of how we’ll name it are still being worked out, but NASA announced a few weeks back that it will involve a public naming contest.”
And now, folks, our time to shine has arrived.
NASA has finally extended an invitation for people to submit their ideas for a name, although they note this is not going to be the officially-official name just yet, but rather a nickname to be used until the flyby happens.
The team at New Horizons already have a bunch of ideas prepared, which now form the basis of the naming campaign, and anyone can already vote for those.
Amongst current choices put forward by the team are Z’ha’dum – a fictional planet from the TV series Babylon 5; Camalor – a fictional city actually located in the Kuiper belt according to Robert L. Forward’s novel Camelot 30K; and Mjölnir – the name of Norse thunder god Thor’s epic hammer.
One of the most interesting aspects of MU69 is that we’re not even sure whether the object is one body or two – telescope observations have hinted it could actually be two similarly-sized bodies either in close mutual orbit, or even stuck together.