New Horizons team picks Ultima Thule as nickname for 2014 MU69


Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right or below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

In their continuing effort to give interesting names to their targets, the New Horizons team has chosen the name Ultima Thule for 2014 MU69, the Kuiper Belt object it will fly past on January 1, 2019.

With substantial public input, the team has chosen “Ultima Thule” (pronounced ultima thoo-lee”) for the Kuiper Belt object the New Horizons spacecraft will explore on Jan. 1, 2019. Officially known as 2014 MU69, the object, which orbits a billion miles beyond Pluto, will be the most primitive world ever observed by spacecraft – in the farthest planetary encounter in history.

Thule was a mythical, far-northern island in medieval literature and cartography. Ultima Thule means “beyond Thule”– beyond the borders of the known world—symbolizing the exploration of the distant Kuiper Belt and Kuiper Belt objects that New Horizons is performing, something never before done.

“MU69 is humanity’s next Ultima Thule,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “Our spacecraft is heading beyond the limits of the known worlds, to what will be this mission’s next achievement. Since this will be the farthest exploration of any object in space in history, I like to call our flyby target Ultima, for short, symbolizing this ultimate exploration by NASA and our team.”

Their spacecraft will be the first to see this object up close. It is their right to name it. And if the International Astronomical Union objects, they can go to hell. I guarantee that future generations of space-farers will know this tiny world by this name, and this name alone.

Share

8 comments

  • Localfluff

    The New Horizons team decides its name. Not the IAU. The IAU has degraded their authority on classifications and namings in recent years. They should maybe keep to the catalogs and stay clear of whatever the general public happens to get interested in.

    Naming it after the Norwegian myths of something beyond the fogs of the outermost northern island of Thule (like America beyond Greenland maybe), is quite appropriate I think.

  • Steve Earle

    Mr Z said:
    “…..Their spacecraft will be the first to see this object up close. It is their right to name it. And if the International Astronomical Union objects, they can go to hell….”

    Perfect sentiment, I agree 100%. The Pluto fiasco should have been a lesson to all concerned. (and yes, I am teaching my science and space interested 7 yr old son that Pluto IS a planet and the Sol System has NINE planets not eight!)

    Does anyone on here know if there is a chance they might have enough fuel/range left over to target any other Kuiper objects before the EOM occurs?

    Sheldon Cooper berates Neil Degrasse Tyson over his role in demoting Pluto:
    https://youtu.be/H3DfwFZZXDQ

  • Steve Earle asked, “Does anyone on here know if there is a chance they might have enough fuel/range left over to target any other Kuiper objects before the EOM occurs?”

    I suspect not. They were I think very lucky to get Ultima Thule. Considering their speed, and the vastness of emptiness out there, the odds of having another object reachable for a fly-by seems quite low. Moreover, being farther out such an object would also be harder to find.

  • wayne

    Steve–
    you’re on a roll with the video clips!

  • Gealon

    An interesting bit of trivia to add to the discussion, one of the planets visited on the television show Space 1999 was Ultima Thule. It too was a frozen snowball floating far off the beaten track, though we will have to see if this real world stellar object is indeed a snowball or a rock, and if there is an encampment of long lost astronauts marooned there.

  • Steve Earle

    Mr Z said:
    “…I suspect not. They were I think very lucky to get Ultima Thule. Considering their speed, and the vastness of emptiness out there, the odds of having another object reachable for a fly-by seems quite low. Moreover, being farther out such an object would also be harder to find….”

    That’s a pity. We won’t have another controllable spacecraft out that way anytime soon. I would also guess that even if they were to find another object within its reach that expending any more fuel would hasten EOM…. Better to keep it on its current course and transmitting as many years as possible.

    Continuing on my video roll here’s the episode of Space 1999 that Gealon referred to:

    blob:http://www.dailymotion.com/43450e36-69e6-4df2-8dd6-0a8e8e288237

    That was an interesting bit of trivia Gealon! And I had forgotten the catchy theme song for S99 :-)

  • Steve Earle

    Bad link above, sorry. This one should work, just X out of the Car Ad and the video will start:

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5v20rw

    (Did I mention that these comments need an “edit function”? Oh, and a “Quote function as well…)

  • Steve Earle: The quote function exists. You place the tag “blockquote” before the quote, enclosing the word with the <> symbols instead of quotes, and then place “/blockquote” after the quote, changing the quotes once again to the <> symbols.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *