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By Carolyn Collins Petersen, TheSpacewriter
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New Horizons’ Next Target Has a Nickname: Ultima Thule

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 21:27
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On the Way to Ultima Thule Ultima ThuleArtist’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 NASA announcement about Ultima, “MU69 is humanity’s next Ultima Thule,” he said. “Our 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.”

I like the name, too. It sounds all science-fictiony. In fact, that name has been used in science fiction stories as a sort of “ultimate” destination among the stars.

What IS This Tiny World?

Nobody’s quite sure exactly how Ultima Thule looks. The image up there is a “best guess”. That’s because the spacecraft is still too far to get a detailed image of it. Ground-based observations seem to indicate it might be a double-lobed potato-shape world. Or, it might be what they call a “contact binary”. That’s two pieces of worlds in very close proximity to each other. One way or another, once New Horizons gets closer, it will solve the mystery and show us this next outpost in the Kuiper Belt.

The post New Horizons’ Next Target Has a Nickname: Ultima Thule appeared first on .


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