Name That Asteroid!
A giant space rock needs a new name, and you can help
A lonely asteroid is hurtling through outer space—and it needs your help. The rock doesn’t do much. It’s smaller than a planet and revolves around the sun. But the folks at the U.S. space agency NASA and their partners believe that the asteroid deserves a better name than “(101955) 1999 RQ36,” so they are asking kids to send in ideas.
The 1,837-foot-wide asteroid could hit the Earth when it comes close to us in about 170 years. But chances of direct contact with our planet are quite small—only 1 in 1,000.
Nevertheless, scientists want to learn as much as possible about the flying rock. NASA is planning a visit to the asteroid in 2016. During the mission—called OSIRIS-REx—an unpiloted spacecraft will land on the asteroid’s surface, take samples, and bring them back to Earth. Scientists believe the samples could tell them a lot about how our solar system formed and maybe even unlock some secrets about the beginning of life on our planet. NASA hopes to send astronauts to the asteroid in 2025.
HOW TO NAME AN ASTEROID
If you would like scientists to consider your idea for the asteroid’s name, here's how to submit it:
First, you have to be under the age of 18. Next, your parents or a teacher must fill out an online entry form. The new name cannot be longer than 16 characters. You’ll also need to write a short explanation of how you came up with the name.
There are a few challenges, though. You can’t use a name that has already been used for another minor planet or natural satellite. The name should also come from a culture’s mythology.
Scientists will review each idea to pick a winner. Then the name will have to be officially approved by the International Astronomical Union’s Committee for Small-Body Nomenclature.
“Our mission will be focused on this asteroid for more than a decade,” says Dante Lauretta, one of the scientists working on the OSIRIS-REx project. “We look forward to having a name that is easier to say than (101955) 1999 RQ36.”
The deadline for name ideas is December 2, 2012. You can get the entire scoop on naming guidelines here.