‘Ultima Thule’ tapped as Nickname for New Horizons Spacecraft Next Flyby Target in 2019

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. With public input, the team has selected the nickname “Ultima Thule” for
the object, which will be the most primitive and most distant world ever
explored by spacecraft.  Credits:
NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Steve Gribben

Ken Kremer     SpaceUpClose.com     16 Mar 2018
The New Horizons team has tapped ‘Ultima Thule’ as
the nickname for the spacecrafts next flyby target on New Year’s Day 2019 – which
symbolizing this ultimate exploration by NASA” says Alan
Stern, the missions team leader and chief scientist. It orbits the sun more
than 4 Billion miles (6.5 billion kilometers) beyond Earth.
The primitive
frozen world – officially known as 2014 MU69 – will
become the farthest object ever explored up close by a manmade emissary
in history
when NASA’s New Horizons spaceship zooms past for a close encounter on Jan. 1, 2019 orbiting more than a billion miles beyond
Pluto, the most distant planet in our Solar System.

first ever up close examination of this distant object holds critical clues to the
formation of the outer solar system eons ago.

“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,” NASA

is located in the Kuiper
Belt and represents a
pristine building block of the solar system. 
was ‘ultimately’ selected as the team after being imaged by NASA’s Hubble Space
Telescope for scrutiny by the science team.
Its exact nature
is not known precisely because it is so distant and tiny. It could be a single body, a binary
pair, or perhaps a system of multiple objects with multiple moons.
This image of Ultima Thule, or 2014 MU69, was captured by
the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI
the largest known body in the Kuiper Belt, was the first target explored by New
Horizons during a fast flyby over two years ago during July 2015

“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.”
The mission team wanted a more inspiring name for
the Kuiper Belt target besides 2014 MU69.
So they set up a contest hosted by the SETI
Institute of Mountain View, California, and led by Mark Showalter, an institute
fellow and member of the New Horizons science team,  and invited the public to submit names from November
to early December 2017 and stipulated that a nickname would be chosen from
among the top vote-getters.
NASA said over 115,000 people participants from
around the world nominated over 34,000 names. 37 names were down selected for
final voting including eight names suggested by the New Horizons team and 29
nominated by the public.
“MU69 is humanity’s next Ultima Thule,” said
Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research
Institute in Boulder, Colorado, in a statement.
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.”

The New Horizons spacecraft is currently hibernating
while the mission team plans the
“We are grateful to those who proposed such an
interesting and inspirational nickname,” Showalter said. “They deserve credit
for capturing the true spirit of exploration that New Horizons embodies.”
A formal name will be chosen by NASA and the New
Horizons team and submitted to the infamous International Astronomical Union
the flyby is completed.

The shape and composition of ‘Ultima Thule’ is
unknown. It could be peanut shaped or binary
. Its size is estimated
at no more than 20 miles (30 kilometers) long,
or, if a binary, each about 9-12 miles (15-20 kilometers) in diameter. 

“We really won’t know what
MU69 looks like until we fly past it, or even gain a full understanding of it
until after the encounter,” said New Horizons science team member Marc Buie, of
the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado, at the American
Geophysical Union Fall 2017 Meeting in New Orleans. “But even from afar, the
more we examine it, the more interesting and amazing this little world

New Horizons is the fifth spacecraft to traverse the Kuiper Belt, but
the first to conduct a scientific study of this mysterious region beyond
Neptune. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Magda Saina

“Our flyby of MU69 on New
Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day 2019 will be an exciting sequel to the historic
exploration New Horizons performed at Pluto in 2015,” added Alan Stern, New
Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in
Boulder, Colorado. “Nothing even like MU69 has ever been explored before.”

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at kenkremer.com
Global mosaic of Pluto created from raw images gathered
during July 2015 flyby by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JHU/JPL/SWRI/Marco
Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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