Kuiper Belt Object Ultima Thule Has New Name: Arrokoth

Ultima Thule (also known as 2014 MU69), the Kuiper Belt Object that was the target of the January 1, 2019 flyby by NASA’s New Horizons mission, has been officially named Arrokoth, a Native American term meaning ‘sky’ in the Powhatan/Algonquian language.

This composite image of Ultima Thule was compiled from data obtained by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it flew by the object on January 1, 2019. The image combines enhanced color data (close to what the human eye would see) with detailed high-resolution panchromatic pictures. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute / Roman Tkachenko.

This composite image of Ultima Thule was compiled from data obtained by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it flew by the object on January 1, 2019. The image combines enhanced color data (close to what the human eye would see) with detailed high-resolution panchromatic pictures. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute / Roman Tkachenko.

New Horizons launched in January 2006. It then zipped past Jupiter for a gravity boost and scientific studies in February 2007

The spacecraft conducted a flyby of Pluto and its moons on July 14, 2015.

It continued its unparalleled voyage on New Year’s 2019 with the exploration of Arrokoth — which the New Horizons team had nicknamed ‘Ultima Thule’ — a billion miles beyond Pluto, and the farthest flyby ever conducted.

Arrokoth was discovered in 2014 by the team using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

“Data from the newly-named Arrokoth, has given us clues about the formation of planets and our cosmic origins,” said Dr. Marc Buie, a researcher at the Southwest Research Institute.

“We believe this ancient body, composed of two distinct lobes that merged into one entity, may harbor answers that contribute to our understanding of the origin of life on Earth.”

In accordance with International Astronomical Union naming conventions, the scientists earned the privilege of selecting a permanent name for the celestial body.

They used this convention to associate the culture of the native peoples who lived in the region where the object was discovered. In this case, both Hubble and New Horizons are operated out of Maryland, a tie to the significance of the Chesapeake Bay region to the Powhatan people.

“The name ‘Arrokoth’ reflects the inspiration of looking to the skies and wondering about the stars and worlds beyond our own,” said New Horizons principal investigator Dr. Alan Stern, from Southwest Research Institute.

“That desire to learn is at the heart of the New Horizons mission, and we’re honored to join with the Powhatan community and people of Maryland in this celebration of discovery.”

“We graciously accept this gift from the Powhatan people,” said Dr. Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

“Bestowing the name Arrokoth signifies the strength and endurance of the indigenous Algonquian people of the Chesapeake region.”

“Their heritage continues to be a guiding light for all who search for meaning and understanding of the origins of the Universe and the celestial connection of humanity.”

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