Solar system montage with eight planets

Claire Going, age 16


Justification for the name: "I chose the name Khepri from the Egyptian god of death, creation, and rebirth for the asteroid, 1999 RQ36, because asteroids are the natural proponents of these forces. In the collision between asteroids and other bodies, they are destroyed, but the fragments of these broken remains come together to form and create new foundations. In these cosmic collisions, asteroids can also provide water to barren planets, providing the chance for life. The violent past of our planet and asteroids also provided us the moon we see today, which without life and evolution would be very different. Khepri symbolizes the inevitable cycle that is life and death, creation and destruction, a cycle that these cosmic entities help drive."

What do you want to see next in space? "One of the most profound questions we can ask ourselves is 'Are we alone in the universe?' As long as we've been gazing up at the stars we've been wondering what lay beyond our planet, which teems with life as diverse as we can imagine. Although the probability of finding life in our own solar system is slight, the implications of finding even the most primitive of life forms would be immeasurable. That is why I would propose a space voyage to Saturn's moon Titan. Even if we didn't find any traces of life, we could gain insight into how life was formed on our own planet, and how life might form in an environment different from our own. Titan is one of the only bodies in the solar system other than Earth that has a fully developed atmosphere comparable to the Earth's. Its atmosphere is chemically active and rich in organic compounds such as hydrogen, and the planet's surface is covered in lakes, rivers, and seas of liquid ethane and liquid methane. Recent evidence from NASA's Cassini spacecraft have even caused some scientists to suggest there may be sub-surface oceans consisting of water. If we sent a more advanced probe to Titan with the mission of exploring the possibility of life, we could learn much about this promising moon."