NASA scientists from the New Horizons mission have renamed the most distant object ever explored after political controversy about its initial name.
The 2014 MU69 Kuiper Belt Object was previously nicknamed Ultima Thule, a medieval term meaning a location outside known world boundaries. But a new name is needed after criticism has emerged about the political connotation of the term. The word "Thule" was historically used by Nazi predecessors, who claimed to describe the birthplace of the Aryan race. This term is still used in some neo-Nazi and alt-right circles today.
To eliminate astronomical objects from such connotations, a new name, "Arrokoth" was given. The name comes from the Native American term meaning "sky," and the elders of the Powhatan Tribe gave permission for the New Horizons team to use it. That is the right name because the two devices used to detect objects, the Hubble Space Telescope and the New Horizons mission, are both operated from Maryland, home to many Powhatan people.
"We generously accept this gift from the Powhatan people," Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planet Science Division, said in a statement. "Giving the name Arrokoth signifies the strength and endurance of the native Algonquians in the Chesapeake region. Their legacy continues to be a guiding light for all those who seek meaning and understanding of the origin of the universe and the heavenly connections of humanity. "
In addition to removing objects from the controversy, the New Horizon team agreed that the new name showed the meaning that was appropriate for the mission. "The name 'Arrokoth' reflects the inspiration to look up at the sky and wonder about the stars and the world outside our own," said Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons of the Southwest Research Institute, in the same statement. "This desire to learn is at the heart of the New Horizons mission, and we are honored to join the Powhatan community and the Maryland community in celebrating this discovery."
Investigations of distant objects appear information about how planets are made, because objects like these form the building blocks of planets. "Data from the newly named Arrokoth has given us clues about planet formation and our cosmic origins," said Marc Buie, of the Southwest Research Institute. "We believe this ancient body, which consists of two different lobes that merge into one entity, can store answers that contribute to our understanding of the origin of life on Earth."