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Name An Asteroid!

September 25th, 2012

Image credit: NASA/Planetary Society

by Jason Kendall

You’ve probably named a pet before, a dog, a fish, or maybe a hamster. Well, here’s your chance to name something really unusual … an asteroid!

NASA (the U.S. Government’s space program), is building a spacecraft for a new mission called OSIRIS-REx. OSIRIS-REx will visit a specific asteroid, get a piece of it, and bring it home to study. It’s going to play a cosmic game of fetch.

Looking at asteroids close up in a lab tells us what they are made out of, how they were formed, and helps us plan for how to push them out of the way if they seem to be on a crash course with Earth.

The one big problem they’re having right now? Giving this asteroid (that’s the length of five football fields!) a name … and they want your help!

Right now, the asteroid’s name is … “(101955) 1999 RQ36”. They know you can come up with something better than that!

The contest is open to kids around the world under the age of 18, so it’s geared for you to give it a try!

OSIRIS-REx won’t launch for four more years (in 2016) and won’t have any astronauts on board. It’s an unmanned mission. It’ll take three years just to get there (arriving in 2019). And then it will get back to Earth with the sample three years after that (in 2023).

You’re going to be ten years older than you are now when this mission is over! How old will you be? The contest for naming the asteroid is open now and closes in two months on December 2nd, 2012 !

It’ll be the first time a U.S. probe will return an asteroid sample to Earth. Japan has done it before, and the U.S. so far has only visited asteroids but not brought samples back.

There are a few rules , and you’ll need to follow them to have a chance. Here’s a link to the naming guidelines , as well.

But, in general, the name can’t be something like “Bob” or “M’ct’ullu’n” or “Lettuce” or “Mikey the Party Crocodile” (although I do kind of like the last one). It also can’t already be on the list of names . It’s OK at school to meet someone with your own name, and it happens all the time, but asteroids get their own name. Oh, and they’d like it to be from mythology, if possible.

Imagine. If your name is chosen, you’ll be able to look up into the skies and know that there’s a piece of real estate that has your name on it right up there among the stars!

Click here for the OSIRIS-REx mission’s website.

If you have any questions about asteroids, the mission, or anything space related, Jason would be happy to help answer your question. You can submit them in the box below!

Jason Kendall is HTE’s space writer, is a NASA Solar System Ambassador, teaches Astronomy, and really, really loves space. 

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