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Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

Name a telescope in 25 words or less

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla

07-02-2008 13:34 CST


NASA announced today the opportunity to suggest a name for the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope. The spacecraft presently known as GLAST is scheduled for launch in "mid-2008," according to the release, and will study the universe in the high-energy, extremely-short-wavelength gamma ray portion of th electromagnetic spectrum. Gamma rays are sexy because they're only generated under the most extreme conditions; so GLAST will be used to study "supermassive black holes, merging neutron stars [and] streams of hot gas moving close to the speed of light..." The Planetary Society loves naming contests and has run them for many missions in the past, though we do not have any association with this one. Why do we like them so much? Because in order to suggest a winning name, contest participants need to have read about the mission and understand what it's about; it's a great way to offer a small reward that entices a lot of people (kids especially) to read about and familiarize themselves with an upcoming mission.

Unlike the naming contest held for Spirit and Opportunity, this one is open to people of all ages from all around the world. They also say it's not a "contest," in that there will be "no official winner" -- I'm not precisely sure what that means other than there's no prize. Perhaps it means they won't even acknowledge publicly the person or people who suggested the name they end up choosing? It may also offer them an "out" in that they can opt not to select any of the suggestions if nothing comes in that they like.

In addition to the name suggestion, you also have to submit "a statement of 25 words or less about why [the] suggestion would be a strong name for the mission." 25 words is pretty short, but enough for two haiku! Here's the other guidelines offered by the GLAST public outreach program, which, incidentally, is where the Bad Astronomer was working until he quit to write full time; I think I detect his voice in the guidelines.

  • The deadline for submissions is March 31, 2008.
  • The name should capture the excitement of GLAST's mission, bringing attention to gamma rays and high-energy astronomy.
  • The name should be catchy, something that people will talk about. Make it simple and easy to say. Nothing says complex and inaccessible like a mouthful of acronyms.
  • In keeping with NASA tradition, the satellite will not be named after a person who is still living.
  • Finally, the name must be original and not associated with any past, present or future astronomical observatory or space mission (domestic or international) or any NASA program. Sorry, Voyager fans!
You can learn more about GLAST at the mission website, and submit your suggestions at the mission's public outreach website.

Artist's concept of the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope.

See other posts from February 2008


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