Students around the world have the opportunity to suggest names for an asteroid that will be visited by a spacecraft later this decade.
Scheduled for launch in 2016, the OSIRIS-REx mission will return the first samples ever taken from a carbon-rich asteroid, which may hold clues to the origin of the solar system and organic molecules that seeded life on Earth.
The naming contest for the near Earth asteroid, currently named (101955) 1999 RQ36, is a partnership of The Planetary Society, MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, and the University of Arizona. UA Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta, leads NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer) asteroid sample return mission.
“Our mission will be focused on 1999 RQ36 for more than a decade, and we look forward to having a name that is easier to say than (101955) 1999 RQ36,” said Lauretta.
Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) asteroid survey discovered 1999 RQ36 in 1999 as part of a program to detect and catalog near Earth asteroids, comets, and minor planets. The asteroid has an average diameter of approximately 500 meters (one-third of a mile). Scientists have identified several times late in the 22nd century when 1999 RQ36 could potentially impact Earth.
“We are excited to have discovered the minor planet that will be visited by the OSIRIS-REx mission and to be able to engage students around the world to suggest a name for 1999 RQ36,” said Grant Stokes, Head of the Aerospace Division at MIT Lincoln Laboratory and Principal Investigator for the LINEAR program.
The Minor Planet Center, operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, gives newly discovered asteroids their initial alphanumeric designations after astronomers determine a refined orbit. Asteroid discoverers can submit brief proposals in support of a name for the discovered asteroid to the International Astronomical Union (IAU). IAU selects the official name.
This contest is open to youth under age 18 from anywhere in the world. Each contestant can submit one name along with a short explanation and rationale for the name. The name must match many guidelines, for example it must be 16 characters or fewer, and no other asteroid can have the same name. Submissions are to be by an adult on behalf of the student.
Complete rules and guidelines can be found at http://planetary.org/name, which is also where contestants need to submit their entries by December 2, 2012.
A panel assembled by the competition partners will review the submissions. The panel will then select a top name and propose it to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Committee for Small-Body Nomenclature. The first-prize winner will be the student (or class) that recommended the name the IAU approves. In the case of multiple submissions of the winning name, first-prize will go to the submission with the best explanation/rationale.
“Asteroids are cool and 1999 RQ36 deserves a cool name!” said Planetary Society Chief Executive Officer Bill Nye. “Engaging kids around the world in a naming contest will get them tuned in to asteroids and asteroid science.”