NASA wants your help naming New Horizons’ next destination

Illustration of New Horizons' next target

NEW HORIZONS’ NEXT POSTCARD  The New Horizons spacecraft will fly by the object known as (486958) 2014 MU69 on January 1, 2019. This artist’s rendition depicts the probe’s target as a binary pair.

NASA, Johns Hopkins Univ. Applied Physics Laboratory, Southwest Research Institute, Carlos Hernandez

NASA’s New Horizons mission needs a catchier nickname for its next destination. The bar isn’t exactly high.

On New Year’s Day 2019, the spacecraft will fly by the tiny Kuiper Belt world that bears the official designation of (486958) 2014 MU69. NASA announced Monday that it is asking the public for an easier-to-remember nickname. The SETI Institute is hosting the contest.

As with similar crowdsourced naming campaigns, the name options vary widely. Current candidates range from Mjölnir (the hammer of the Norse god Thor) to Z’ha’dum (a planet from Babylon 5) to Peanut, Almond and Cashew — multiple name options may be necessary if the object is a binary pair. Whatever the object is named, it will be the most distant solar system body ever visited.

NASA will submit a formal name (or names) to the International Astronomical Union after the flyby, based on whether MU69 turns out to be a single body, binary pair or other system.

While anyone is welcome to submit a name or vote on existing options, SETI must approve any options before they appear on the ballot. So the odds don’t look good for Planet McPlanetface.

The naming campaign will close at 3 p.m. EST on December 1. The winner will be announced in early January.

Mike is the audience engagement editor. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a double major in journalism and psychology. He previously wrote for The Palm Beach Post, covering breaking news.

More Stories from Science News on Astronomy