The astronomy community isn’t always great at naming things. The Rosetta spacecraft, for example, is currently orbiting a comet with the unsightly name of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. On November 12, Rosetta will release its lander, Philae—the first manmade object ever to touch down on a comet—and the European Space Agency needs your help to come up with a (hopefully pronounceable) name for the landing site.
The landing area’s working moniker is “Site J”, but the ESA thinks you can come up with something more compelling, and we’re inclined to agree. You can enter the contest here, and the person who submits the winning name will be flown to ESA’s mission control center in Darmstadt, Germany, to watch the historic landing.
The rules are simple, says ESA:
More details and caveats here.
Last year NASA hosted a similar competition to name two of Pluto’s moons, and things got a little political. The proposed name ‘Vulcan’ received an overwhelming amount of support from voters (including Star Trek‘s William Shatner), but the International Astronomical Union shut it down partly because Vulcan, the Roman god of volcanoes, has nothing to do with Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld.
Thankfully, those party poopers at the IAU aren’t expected to get involved in the Rosetta mission’s competition. The contest website notes that the IAU’s naming conventions don’t apply to comets, “where the appearance of regions/features may change significantly over short periods of time. As such, the name of the landing site is not IAU approved, but will be the name adopted by ESA and its mission partners for all future reference to the landing site.”
The contest entry deadline is October 22, and the winner will be announced on November 3.