NASA to allow students to name an asteroid

Scientists at NASA tend to give objects such as asteroids exceptionally boring and difficult to remember names. For instance, NASA has a mission planned to launch in 2016 to send a spacecraft to near Earth asteroid currently called (101955) 1999 RQ36. That name doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.

Scientists have decided to hold a contest to give students the chance to name the asteroid. This particular asteroid is noteworthy because it has a greater than a 0% chance of striking the earth sometime in the 22nd century. Space geeks tend to get all hot and bothered when any asteroid has a chance of hitting the earth, no matter how miniscule.

The upside of having that scant chance of striking the earth is that this particular asteroid is certain to be a topic of conversation. That means the winning name will be mentioned, at least among space geeks in the future. Typically, the people who discover asteroids get to name them. This particular asteroid was discovered by scientists at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory in 1999.

Rather than picking the name themselves, the astronomers partnered with the Planetary Society and the University of Arizona to turn the name selection process into an online contest. The global contest is to help generate interest in the $800 million OSIRIS-Rex mission to send a probe to the asteroid and bring a sample back by 2023. I hope they pick a cool name. I'd like to see it called BOOYAH because when scientists talk about it they'd have to say, "OSIRIS-Rex has entered orbit around BOOYAH."

[via NBC News]