Most Distant Object Previously Known as 'Ultima Thule' is Now 'Arrakoth'

Thursday, 14 November 2019 - 2:54PM
Science News
Thursday, 14 November 2019 - 2:54PM
Most Distant Object Previously Known as 'Ultima Thule' is Now 'Arrakoth'
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NASA/JHUAPL
2014 MU69, the most distant object ever observed by the New Horizons space probe and nicknamed Ultima Thule, has finally gotten an official name. That's right, you can rest easy because from here on out, your favorite space potato will be known as Arrokoth, which, according to a NASA press release, is a "Native American term meaning 'sky' in the Powhatan/Algonquian language."  


Despite nearly every headline covering this otherwise banal piece of news mentioning the presumed Nazi connotations that have plagued this discovery, the name change comes with no comment from the space agency about the issues surrounding the original nickname, Ultima Thule. Certain segments of the early Nazi party, you see, were involved with an organization called the Thule Society, which took its name from Ultima Thule, a term used by the Roman poet Virgil used to describe the farthest place known to the Romans: essentially the "end of the Earth," or the "furthest reach" ("Thule" was Virgil's name for a northern landmass, thought to be Iceland).


"The name 'Arrokoth' reflects the inspiration of looking to the skies, and wondering about the stars and worlds beyond our own," said Southwest Research Institute's New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern at naming Ceremony in Washington D.C. earlier this week. "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."


To be clear, it is Arrokoth's distance from its foible human observers – and not some hamfisted Nazi occult conspiracy or edgelord stupidity – that inspired its nickname. Unfortunately, were you to have Googled "Ultima Thule" just after the nickname stuck, you would have been immersed in the latter: apparently Virgil isn't as popular as he used to be.
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