NASA and the New Horizon team have sought suggestions from the public to nickname the object in the Kuiper Belt which the New Horizon spacecraft would fly by on New Year's Day of 2019. The object would be about four billion miles from the earth amongst the asteroids, dwarf planets, rocky particles, icy dust particles, and gases in the belt.
The SETI Institute of Mountain View, California, has hosted the naming campaign for the Kuiper Belt object which is currently named as "(486958)2014MU69" by the officials.
People who are interested can post their suggestions in the SETI official website. The website visitors can add their suggestive names or could nominate the names which are already under consideration.
Mark Showalter, an institute fellow and a member of the New Horizon team who leads the campaign, said, "The campaign is open to everyone... We are hoping that somebody out there proposes the perfect, inspiring name for MU69."
NASA and the New Horizons Project plans to formally name the MU69 at the International Astronomical Union (IAU) after gaining sufficient information of the object. The scientists still need to know if the Kuiper Belt object is a single body, a binary pair, or a system of multiple objects.
The telescopic observations of the MU69 hint that the Kuiper object would be either a binary orbiting pair or a group of like-sized bodies. This means that the New Horizon team might need multiple names at their disposal when the spacecraft approaches its target.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said, "New Horizon 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. We're pleased to bring the public along on this exciting mission of discovery."
Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said that the New Horizons has always been about pure exploration, shedding light on new worlds like we've never seen before. He stated, "Our close encounter with MU69 adds another chapter to this mission's remarkable story. 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."
The names could be suggested till 3.00 p.m. EST (Eastern Standard Time)/ noon PST (Pacific Standard Time) on Dec.1, 2017. The selected names would be announced in early January 2018.
The nicknames proposed by the public would act as an interim till the official naming.
The currently known five dwarf planets in our Solar System were discovered from the Kuiper belt. They were all named after Gods from the Greek, Polynesian or Roman mythologies by the IAU. These include Pluto, Ceres, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris. The dwarf planet Pluto was named by British women Venetia Burney in 1930.
The New Horizon Spacecrafts are a pair of space vehicles which have crossed the longest distance traveled by any human-made object. One of the duo spacecraft have already covered the Kuiper belt region and have reached the interstellar space while the other currently travels through the Kuiper Belt. These voyagers have already made many significant discoveries including mapping of geographical features on Pluto and studied gaseous planets Jupiter and Saturn, and their moons.