NASA’s New Horizons probe has a New Year’s Day date with a faint, oddly formed, ice-covered object 6 billion kilometres away.
The intrepid spacecraft has been crusing by the chilly void of area for greater than a decade, and it hasn’t had a detailed encounter with one other object because it left Pluto in 2015. For greater than two years, however for a number of distant glimpses of rocks tons of of tens of millions of miles away, all New Horizons has needed to stay up for is that this rendezvous on the photo voltaic system’s outermost edge.
And when the probe zips previous on January 1, 2019, the thing will grow to be essentially the most distant object ever to be explored by spacecraft.
There’s just one drawback. It does not have a reputation.
Correction: It does not have a very good identify. Right now, it goes by (486958) 2014 MU69, an unwieldy amalgam that signifies its quantity within the minor-planet catalogue and when it was discovered. Alan Stern, the principal investigator for New Horizons, referred to as that identify a “licence-plate designator” – method an excessive amount of of a mouthful for a primary assembly. This month, NASA arrange a web based marketing campaign to solicit nicknames for the thing.
The area company began issues off with a number of strategies, together with “Pluck,” and the names of a number of kinds of nut. “A contact binary is often shaped like a peanut,” NASA explains. “If other bodies are found, we can name them after the type of nut they most closely resemble.”
No surprise they want your assist.
You can submit your suggestion at frontierworlds.org or vote for one of many names already being thought-about. Polls shut on December 1. To guarantee this does not grow to be one other Boaty McBoatface state of affairs, NASA hasn’t assured that it’ll go together with the most well-liked choice. Instead, the company and the New Horizons crew will evaluation the names with essentially the most votes and select their favorite.
After the fly-by, NASA will work to formalise the thing’s new designation with the International Astronomical Union, which oversees the naming of all celestial objects. (You could bear in mind the IAU because the organisation accountable for Pluto’s demotion from planet to dwarf planet in 2006.)
NASA does not know a lot about (486958) 2014 MU69, aka Pluck, aka Peanut, aka Rocky McRockface – that is the entire level of sending New Horizons to review it. It is a Kuiper Belt object – an inhabitant of the huge, frozen disk of particles that encircles the outer photo voltaic system – and it was found in 2014 throughout a Hubble Space Telescope survey geared toward pinpointing an acceptable new goal for New Horizons as soon as it was completed at Pluto. It’s tiny (about 25 miles throughout) and much away (a few billion miles farther from Earth than Pluto).
In the summer time, astronomers noticed the thing’s shadow because it moved in entrance of a distant star, a phenomenon often known as an occultation. The observations revealed that the thing in all probability consists of two smaller our bodies which can be carefully orbiting or caught collectively.
“This means we are very probably going to a primordial binary in the Kuiper Belt, a 4-billion-year-old relic of solar system formation and an exotic building block of the small planets of the Kuiper Belt like Pluto, Ixion, Makemake, Sedna and Eris,” Stern wrote in a weblog put up.