Europe's Life-Hunting Mars Rover Needs a Name

Europe's ExoMars Rover
Artist’s illustration of the ExoMars rover, which is expected to launch in 2020. (Image credit: ESA)

You can help name Europe's life-hunting Mars rover, if geography smiles upon you.

The UK Space Agency has launched a public competition to name the U.K.-built ExoMars rover, which is scheduled to launch toward the Red Planet on a life-hunting mission in 2020. 

"Mars is a fascinating destination, a place where humans will one day work alongside robots to gather new knowledge and search for life in our solar system," European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Tim Peake, who announced the contest today (July 20) at the Farnborough International Airshow in England, said in a statement from ESA. [Photos: Europe's ExoMars Missions to Mars in Pictures]

"The ExoMars rover is a vital part of this journey of exploration, and we are asking you to become part of this exciting mission and name the rover that will scout the Martian surface," Peake added.

The contest is open only to residents of ESA member states and "associate members." So, you're eligible if you live in Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland or the U.K. 

The competition runs through Oct. 10. The person who submits the winning moniker (which, hopefully, won't be Rovey McRoverface) gets a tour of the Airbus facility in Stevenage, England, where the ExoMars rover is being built. 

To learn more or to enter, go to the contest site.

The life-hunting, drill-equipped rover is the second phase of the two-part ExoMars program, which is led by ESA with Russia as junior partner. Phase one consisted of a landing demonstrator called Schiaparelli and the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which launched together in March 2016.

Schiaparelli crashed on the Martian surface in October 2016, but TGO reached its desired orbit and recently began sniffing for methane and other potential signs of life in the Red Planet's atmosphere.

NASA plans to launch its own Mars rover in 2020. The American space agency's Mars 2020 rover will, among other tasks, search for signs of ancient Red Planet life, cache promising samples for possible future return to Earth and test out an instrument that generates oxygen from atmospheric carbon dioxide.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.