Asteroid Needs A Name!
September 4, 2012

Students Asked To Name Asteroid For Upcoming NASA Missions

Watch the Video: NASA Announces Asteroid Naming Contest

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

NASA is opening up an opportunity for students to help name an asteroid the space agency will be gathering samples from and returning back to Earth.

The Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission is scheduled to launch in 2016. During the mission, a spacecraft will land on the near-earth asteroid currently called 1999 RQ36 and grab some samples.

"Asteroids are just cool and 1999 RQ36 deserves a cool name!" Bill Nye, chief executive officer for The Planetary Society, said. "Engaging kids around the world in a naming contest will get them tuned in to asteroids and asteroid science."

NASA said the asteroid could hold clues to the origin of the solar system, and organic molecules that may have seeded life on Earth. The space agency is also planning a crewed mission to an asteroid by 2025.

"Because the samples returned by the mission will be available for study for future generations, it is possible the person who names the asteroid will grow up to study the regolith we return to Earth," Jason Dworkin, OSIRIS-REx project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md, said.

Students under the age of 18 years from anywhere in the world are being asked to take part in naming the asteroid. Each contestant can submit one name, up to 16 characters long.

Entries for the contest must include a short explanation and rationale for the name, and submissions must be made by an adult on behalf of the student.

After the entry deadline closes, a panel will be reviewing proposed asteroid names, and the person whose name was picked will be awarded a prize.

"Our mission will be focused on this asteroid for more than a decade," Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for the mission at the University of Arizona, said. "We look forward to having a name that is easier to say than (101955) 1999 RQ36."

The asteroid was first discovered in 1999 by the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) survey. LINEAR is part of NASA's Near Earth Observation Program, which detects and catalogs near-Earth asteroids, and comets.

“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,” added Grant Stokes, head of the Aerospace Division at MIT Lincoln Laboratory and principal investigator for the LINEAR program.

For more information and contest rules and guidelines, visit this NASA site.