NASA has invited the public to suggest a nickname for the New Horizons mission’s next flyby destination – a small, frozen world in the outer edge of our solar system. The Kuiper Belt object (KBO), located 1.6 billion kilometres past Pluto, currently goes by the official designation “(486958) 2014 MU69”. Telescopic observations of MU69, which is more than 6.5 billion kilometers from Earth, hint at the Kuiper Belt object being either a binary orbiting pair or a contact (stuck together) pair of nearly like-sized bodies – meaning the team might actually need two or more temporary tags for its target. The New Horizons spacecraft will fly past the object on January 1, 2019. “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,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, from NASA. “We’re pleased to bring the public along on this exciting mission of discovery,” said Zurbuchen. According to telescopic observations, MU69 is more than 6.5 billion kilometres from Earth. “New Horizons has always been about pure exploration, shedding light on new worlds like we’ve never seen before,” said Alan Stern, from the New Horizons. “Our close encounter with MU69 adds another chapter to this mission’s remarkable story,” said Stern. “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,” he said.
The campaign will close on December 1. NASA and the New Horizons team will review the top vote-getters and announce their selection is early January. After the flyby, NASA and the New Horizons project plan to choose a formal name to submit to the International Astronomical Union, based in part on whether MU69 is found to be a single body, a binary pair, or perhaps a system of multiple objects. The chosen nickname will be used in the interim.