NASA Wants Your Help Naming New Horizons' Next Destination

Kuiper McKuiperface? That's likely not going to be a winner, but NASA really is looking for help naming 2014 MU69, the icy Kuiper Belt object that the New Horizons spacecraft is on its way to visit. There are already eight existing options you can vote on, or you can offer your own suggestions. You only have until December 1 to enter your suggestions, so put your thinking cap on.

Whatever NASA picks will only be an informal name, which will be replaced once New Horizons gets a better look at what MU69 actually is—scientists aren't even sure yet how many objects are involved, since recent ground-based work has suggested there might actually be two close neighbors, rather than just one object.

Once New Horizons, which is due to arrive on January 1, 2019, clears up that little uncertainty, NASA and the mission team will decide on the name(s) it really wants to be using. Then they will need the formal approval of the International Astronomical Union, which oversees all official names for features and objects in space. Like other Kuiper Belt objects, these final names will relate to mythologies from around the world.

So far, the nicknames being considered include individual names as well as twin and triplet options. There's no real theme so far, as there is with formal names, like the features on Pluto and its moon Charon that are being named based on New Horizons' first stop.

09_06_New_Horizons_MU69 An artist's representation of what New Horizons could look like approaching 2014 MU69. Carlos Hernandez

The contenders you can vote on already are: Año Nuevo, commemorating the spacecraft's arrival date; Camalor, the name of an alien city located in the Kuiper Belt in a novel called Camelot 30K; Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira, for Mt. Kilimanjaro's three peaks; Mjölnir, which connects MU69's possible shape to the Norse god Thor's hammer; Peanut, Almond, and Cashew depending on what nut each piece of the object most resembles; Pluck and Persistence, in honor of New Horizons' long journey; Sagittarius, the constellation in which the object appears to be located; or Z'ha'dum, a reference to the '90s television series Babylon 5.

And you can also submit your own candidates, although the website for the vote isn't clear on whether or when they will be added to the ballot. "We are hoping that somebody out there proposes the perfect, inspiring name for MU69," Mark Showalter, the NASA scientist who is leading the naming campaign said in a press release.

NASA has promised to announce the winning nickname in January 2018, which will leave a full year to speculate about the object using the new terminology. Nice.

Join the Discussion