More than two years after NASA's New Horizons probe whisked by Pluto, the robotic spacecraft continues to zip toward the furthest edges of the solar system in pursuit of history's farthest planetary encounter. It's heading toward the Kuiper Belt, a ring-shaped region beyond Neptune's orbit that contains dwarf planets like Pluto and perhaps several hundred thousand other icy bodies. The target is a tiny world that New Horizons is scheduled to pass on New Year's Day 2019. As of now, it's simply called MU69—but NASA and the New Horizons team want you to help them come up with a more memorable moniker, the Associated Press reports.
You can cast your vote for MU69's new title in an online naming contest, which opened up to the public in November and closes on December 1, 2017, at 3 p.m. Eastern time. There's no limit to the number of votes you submit, although contest organizers request that you do so no more than once per day.
Names to chose from include Año Nuevo ("New Year" in Spanish), Pluck & Persistence, and Peanut, Almond, or Cashew, the last three of which could describe MU69's potential shape. So far, Mjölnir, a.k.a. Thor's Hammer, is in the lead, according to the latest vote tally.
Participants can also suggest new names via this form. All languages are fair game, so long as they're written using the Latin alphabet, but researchers do say they're "particularly interested in nicknames that are appropriate for the first exploration of a cold, distant, ancient world at the outer frontier of the solar system." (Religious, political, and commercial names aren't allowed.)
NASA also recommends submitting two or more names that go together, since preliminary observations have indicated that MU69 might be a binary, or two astronomical bodies harnessed together by their mutual gravitational forces. If they're a "contact binary"—meaning they're touching—only one name will be needed, but a separated pair will call for two.
Once New Horizons flies by MU69, the mission team will propose a formal name for the body to the International Astronomical Union (IAU). That said, NASA still has final say over MU69's forever title—so even if a certain submission receives the most votes, it still needs to be vetted by officials. In short, you probably can't name it Planet McPlanetface.
Still, researchers say they're excited to involve the public in the naming process and hope to land on a name "that captures the excitement of the flyby and awe and inspiration of exploring this new and record-distant body in space," said Alan Stern, principal investigator for the New Horizons team, in a statement.
[h/t Associated Press]
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So many disclaimers, so little chance of winning. Or is there? That depends on whether you plan on submitting an entry to a contest or a sweepstakes. While some people might use the two terms interchangeably, there’s actually a huge difference between the two—and if you’re in charge of the promotion, not understanding that can carry serious consequences.
Simply put: a contest is a competition in which entries are judged on merit; a sweepstakes winner is determined by random chance. In a contest, you might be evaluated based on an essay, a cheesecake recipe, or some kind of design. A panel of judges makes a subjective determination based on the judging criteria outlined in the fine print.
In a sweepstakes, luck takes the place of talent. All entries are given equal consideration and tossed into a random drawing. Publishers Clearing House doesn’t require you to write a poem on why you deserve the jackpot; they just pluck a winner from a pile.
Here’s where it gets slightly tricky. According to scattered state laws and federal law, charging money for a sweepstakes entry would classify it as a lottery—and that’s usually illegal, unless it’s being sponsored by a state's government. (That’s where the “no purchase necessary” phrase comes in handy.) Contests, on the other hand, can charge an entry fee since there’s a degree of skill involved.
You might think that major giveaway sponsors would know the difference, but that’s not always the case. In 2006, the CVS pharmacy chain was ordered to pay $152,000 in civil penalties in New York after they promoted a “sweepstakes” in which entries were automatically submitted for customers buying Nicorette gum; the chain didn’t make the offer available to people who didn’t buy the product.
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