Giving the internet the option to name historic discoveries perhaps isn’t the best idea, but NASA is pushing ahead with seeking names for a deep space object it’s set to flyby on New Year’s Day 2019.
NASA’s New Horizons space probe was launched in 2006 with the primary goal of capturing Pluto, which it famously achieved in 2015. Having continued its journey deep into outer space, the spacecraft is rapidly coming up on the Kuiper belt, which contains remnants from when the Solar System was first formed.
The mission is now focused on finding one object in particular, the rather drearily named (486958) 2014 MU69. Instead of keeping this rather uninspired – and hard to remember – title, NASA has turned to the wonders of the internet to produce a name that matches the marvels of deep space travel.
In a NASA statement, principal investigator for New Horizons Alan Stern said, “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.”
With the “Boaty McBoatface” catastrophe – or great success, depending on your point of view – still fresh in the minds of many, NASA has taken a few precautions with the names put forth in their latest call out.
Some early possibilities include Chomolungma, Sagarmatha (names of Mt. Everest in Tibet and Nepal), Mjölnir (the name of Thor’s hammer), as well as Australia’s own Uluru recently being added as a title candidate.