The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency aims to give a name to the destination asteroid for the Hayabusa2 mission, which blasted off Wednesday, a senior agency official said.
It might consider asking the public for a name, said Hitoshi Kuninaka, a professor and project manager at JAXA.
Although the right to name the asteroid, which has a provisional designation of 1999 JU3, belongs to its discoverers — a research team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory — Kuninaka is confident they will hand over the privilege.
“We are close to obtaining their consent” on transferring the right, Kuninaka said.
The provisional name was assigned automatically under International Astronomical Union rules based on date and order of discovery.
Since 1999 JU3 was the 95th asteroid discovered from May 1 to 15, 1999, “J” indicates the first half of May and “U3” means 95th, with “3” indicating the 25 letters of the alphabet (the “I” is dropped) have already been cycled through three times, adding up to 75, and “U” being the 20th letter.
Discoverers typically name asteroids after historic people and places, such as Kleopatra, Beethoven, Italia and Chicago.
Asteroid names with a Japanese origin include Okinawa and Ryoma, after Sakamoto Ryoma, the samurai who played a prominent role in the overthrow of the Tokugawa shogunate.
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