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OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at asteroid 1999 RQ36. Photo credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona
OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at asteroid 1999 RQ36. (Photo credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona)

Josh Emery, assistant professor in earth and planetary sciences at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, works on the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission, which is now hosting a contest that will allow kids under the age of 18 to name an asteroid.

The international contest will help scientists find a new name for asteroid 1996 RQ36. To enter, kids should have their parents or teachers fill out a form with the name suggestion and an explanation of why the name would be fitting.

The entry deadline is December 2, 2012.

Emery said the contest is “a good way to get students to really think about exploration and the human spirit.”

Emery and other scientists working on the OSIRIS-REx mission have built a robotic spacecraft to send to asteroid 1996 RQ36 to collect samples for analysis. The mission began in May 2011 and will continue until 2025. 1996 RQ36 is a near-Earth asteroid thought to contain a significant amount of carbon. It takes about 1.2 years to orbit the Sun and could hit Earth within the next two centuries.

The goal of the mission, Emery said, is to learn what conditions were like early in the solar system’s development. However, they also want to help protect Earth from the potential impact of the asteroid.

“This will be the first time NASA has retrieved samples from an asteroid,” Emery said.

The naming contest is sponsored by the Planetary Society, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Labs, and the University of Arizona.

For more information about the contest as well as guidelines for naming asteroids, visit

For more information about the OSIRIS-REx mission, visit the website.

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,

Holly Gary (865-974-2225,