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Sci-Tech

NASA spacecraft's next flyby target needs a cool nickname

New Horizons' next destination is a mysterious world that has a mouthful of a name. You can help give it a better moniker.

nh-flyby-target

This artist's concept shows one interpretation of what MU69 might look like.

NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Carlos Hernandez

We've littered the universe with nifty nicknames. There's the Red Planet (Mars), the Tarantula Nebula (30 Doradus) and The Whale (a dark region on Pluto). Now it's time to spiff up the tongue-tying moniker of "(486958) 2014 MU69," a cold world located way out  in the Kuiper Belt that is also the next destination for NASA's New Horizons spacecraft.

NASA and the SETI Institute are joining up to give the public a shot at coming up with a new nickname for MU69. You can check out current suggestions, vote for names and nominate your own through SETI's Frontier Worlds website

Your fellow space fans are already busy nominating and voting. Just in time for the release of "Thor: Ragnorak," one of the leading vote-getters is "Mjölnir" for the superhero's hammer. Some of the other leading nominations are "Pluck & Persistence" (qualities of the spacecraft), "Peanut, Almond, Cashew" (possible shapes for MU69) and "Z'ha'dum" (a fictional planet from sci-fi show "Babylon 5"). Voting continues until Dec. 1.

"Kuiper McKuiperface" is suspiciously missing from the names under consideration, which are vetted and narrowed down by SETI before going up for vote. The chosen nickname will go into use in the lead-up to New Horizons' scheduled flyby on Jan. 1, 2019. 

MU69 is still largely a mystery, but NASA thinks it could possibly be made up of two or more small objects with a diameter of up to 12 miles (18 kilometers) each. Scientists will propose a formal name once New Horizons gets a better look at it. 

New Horizons first launched in 2006 and made a big splash when it reached dwarf planet Pluto in 2015. The plucky spacecraft will have traveled an additional 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) by the time it reaches its next target, but we will have a nice new nickname for MU69 well before then.