Do you want a chance to name an piece of the Solar System? In 2016 the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will fly out to an asteroid and bring us back some samples. At the moment the asteroid has the code name 1999 RQ36, but the Planetary Society is offering students under the age of 18 the chance to come up with a cooler name
There are thousands of known asteroids, so giving each one a name would be quite a chore. Instead, when a new asteroid is discovered scientists give them designations such as '1999 RQ36'. The first four digits are the year it was discovered, the last four digits are when in the year it was discovered. 1999 RQ36 was the 916th object observed in the first half of September, 1999.
But even before OSIRIS-REx reaches it, this asteroid is something special and deserves a more personal title. In the chaos of the early Solar System many asteroids collided with the young planets, scattering organic materials and maybe water too — the building blocks of life on Earth. 1999 RQ36 is one of the most organic-rich remnants from the early Solar System, covered by a blanket of fine gravel which is ideal for collecting samples. These samples will help us understand planetary formation and even the origins of life.
If you need another reason to take part in the contest, how about having the chance to name the most potentially dangerous asteroid known to humanity? 1999 RQ36 has one of the highest probabilities of impacting with Earth in the near future of any known asteroid!
To take part a parent or teacher must fill in an online form by 2 December 2012, including the name and a brief explanation as to why it was chosen.
The International Astronomical Union governs the naming of all big and small objects in the solar system, they have created some rules to consider when naming an asteroid.
For more information about the contest or the OSIRIS-REx mission visit the Planetary Society website.