Getting the youths excited about Kuiper Belt Objects isn’t always easy, especially when the space rock in question is about 4 billion miles from Earth. But on New Year’s Day in 2019, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will rendezvous with one such mysterious object, called “(486958) 2014 MU69, or “MU69” for short. To drum up public interest, the space agency is inviting the public to rename the object. But according to several space writers, this is a no good, very bad, decidedly not “nice” idea.
NASA announced the competition Monday, which is available to the public on the SETI Institute’s website. The new nickname will serve as a placeholder until the International Astronomical Union (IAU) formally renames it at a later date. But surely, relabeling MU69 would destroy the incredibly nice nickname it’s already been given.
“MU69 is a perfect name” Gizmodo science writer Ryan Mandelbaum tells Inverse. “Not only is it informative, but it has the nicest number right there, the sex number. Any change at all should still reflect its extremely nice history.”
2014 MU69 is a pretty mysterious object hiding in the Kuiper Belt beyond Pluto. Although it was first spotted by Hubble back in 2014, no one knows exactly what it is. Some scientists say it could be two objects that are smashed up together like a weird meatball, or perhaps a binary pair. While we don’t know exactly what MU69 looks like, its name is undeniably nice, and this “naming campaign” is deeply insulting to people who are extremely online.
“Why the heck would they bother renaming it?” Inverse science writer Peter Hess tells me. “NASA officials think renaming MU69 to something else will get people excited about New Horizons linking up with the object, then they have obviously never been on the internet and seen how excited people get about the number 69. It’s a bad move, and it’s just gonna be another Boaty McBoatface fiasco, except it’ll probably be something like Sixtynine McNiceface.”
Science journalist Shannon Stirone echoed Hess’ thoughts, adding that it’ll just add undue confusion for space writers.
“I don’t think MU69 needs a nickname,” she tells Inverse. “We’ve always written about that body and called it MU69 so in terms of writing and consistency it might be confusing not only for writers but the public as well to have a total of three names. For me, that object is MU69, it will be strange to finally get a new name from the IAU.”
Those interested in soiling history can visit the SETI Institute’s website for more information. The contest closes on December 1 at 3 p.m. Eastern/noon Pacific.