Mat KaplanNov 27, 2012

Alan Stern Returns to Planetary Radio

Alan Stern has probably been our guest on Planetary Radio more than anyone except Linda Spilker of the Cassini mission. This shouldn't be surprising. Alan never has fewer than a dozen balls in the air. His news this time is about the growing challenge for New Horizons when it reaches the Pluto vicinity, which seems to become more crowded daily. The cloud of objects out there makes his mission both more interesting and more dangerous. But the spacecraft is in great shape, with a nice little software update coming in January.

New Horizons at Pluto and Charon
New Horizons at Pluto and Charon Image: Ed Hengeveld / Philip Corneille

The newest of Alan's passions is Uwingu. That's Swahili for "sky." Uwingu's mission is to provide crowdsourced funding for space science by offering compelling apps. Their first is about to come out of Beta, but Alan has invited you to get it on it right now. Someone is going to have to come up with names for the thousands of confirmed and candidate exoplanets that have been discovered. Shouldn't at least one be named after your favorite movie? Your dog? Your favorite scientist? You can propose a name for 99 cents, and then you and others can vote for that name. 

The current leader is "Heinlein," with 76 votes. I promised Alan I won't hold it against Uwingu that my own nomination, "Pandora," has a measly two votes. (Come on, people! No one said it has to be saved for a terrestrial moon near Alpha Centauri!) 

The nominations are entirely unofficial, of course. The actual naming of these worlds is up to the IAU, in consultation with their discoverers, but with billions more planets waiting to be discovered, Alan and his colleagues figure they may appreciate a little help. 

Up to half the money received will go to organizations that are at the forefront of space science. 

There's much more in this week's PlanRad episode, including the opening of a new round of Shoemaker Near Earth Object grants for serious astronomers, pro and amateur. That comes from Bruce Betts, who also offers up a fun new contest during our What's Up segment. What do YOU think Curiosity has found on Mars? The funniest or most creative answer to that question might win you a Year in Space wall calendar. I hope you'll listen in soon.

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