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(101955) 1999 RQ36 Needs a Name, and Something Snappy


An destination asteroid in search of a name. Image Credit/NASA

It’s a planetary body known as a near-Earth asteroid.

NASA is preparing to launch the Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission to this solar system body in 2016, and as if OSIRIS-REx isn’t a mouthful, then (101955) 1999 RQ36 as a destination certainly is.

Findings from the long running robotic mission will likely help the space agency prepare for a human mission to similar asteroid a decade of so later. They may also help scientists explain how organic molecules, the building blocks of life, reached the Earth as the planets formed around the sun more than four billion years ago. They may help engineers devise a strategy to deflect an asteroid that poses an impact hazard.

NASA is soliticiting proposed names through Dec. 2.

The competition is open to students under 18, and from anywhere in the world.

Each entry must be accompanied by brief explanation for the suggested name.  And the rules require an adult to submit the entry on behalf of the student.

“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,” said Jason Dworkin, OSIRIS-REx project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Regolith is soil.

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will retrieve soil from an asteroid. Image Credit/NASA

The destination asteroid was discovered in 1999 by the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) survey at the Lincoln Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

LINEAR is part of NASA’s Near Earth Observation Program inWashington, which detects and catalogs near-Earth asteroids and comets. The asteroid has a diameter of about one-third of a mile.

“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 asteroid received its awkward initial  designation from the Minor Planet Center, operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory inCambridge,Mass.The center assigns an initial alphanumeric designation to any newly discovered asteroid once certain criteria are met to determine its orbit.

But that doesn’t diminish the need for a name that rolls off the tongue.

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

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is offering these resources for those interested in the contest.

To review contest rules and guidelines, go here.

There is a video explanation as well:

And just as important, there is information about the OSIRIS-REx mission, check








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