On the Way to Ultima Thule
Artist’s impression of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft encountering 2014 MU69, a Kuiper Belt object that orbits one billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto, on Jan. 1, 2019. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Steve Gribben
All these years since its discovery, the little world 2014 MU69 hasn’t had a nickname until now. NASA announced a contest to name this next target for New Horizons. After months of entries and deliberation, the winning name is “Ultima Thule”. For those of us who live in the toolies here on Earth, it’s a great name. It definitely reflects its distance out in the solar system. And, with this week’s “green light” from the spacecraft headed toward Ultima, it’s nice to have a colorful name to hang on this still-mysterious world.
I was beginning to wonder what the contest had selected. Of course, I kept asking Alan Stern about it, and he kept being perfectly mysterious about the whole thing. Now that the nickname is public, it’ll go to the IAU for final approval. Its job is to make sure the name fits, which should be easy for that organization to figure out. It’s perfectly appropriate, as Alan pointed out in the ...