NASA has announced a contest to name the asteroid targeted for exploration in a mission led by the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Lab.

Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for the OSIRIS REx team, said he's looking forward to an easier name for the near-Earth asteroid currently designated as (101955) 1999 RQ36.

The contest is open to students under the age of 18.

The nameless space rock is about 500 meters in diameter and appears to be carbonaceous in composition, meaning it could contain the kinds of organic compounds that may have seeded life on Earth.

This is what makes it interesting to planetary scientists, who have found and analyzed such rocks, but only after they fell to Earth.

This mission seeks to return pristine samples by 2023. Launch of the spacecraft is scheduled for 2016.

The name must be 16 characters or less and should comply with the naming guidelines of the International Astronomical Union, which has the last say on such things.

According to the Planetary Society website:

"Its name should be from mythology, but the name should not be one associated with creation or underworld themes because those themes are used for other types of bodies in the solar system. The mythological name can come from any culture from any part of the world."

The contest is being run by the Planetary Society and details are on its website at: http://planetary.org/name