The farthest cosmic body ever visited by a spacecraft is Ultima Thule, recently renamed Arrokoth.
Arrokoth comes from the indigenous Powhatan language, meaning “sky.” Renaming the space object was due to backlash received over the previous name’s Nazi connotations.
Arrokoth is an icy, rocky structure orbiting the Kuiper Belt, located about a billion miles beyond Pluto. The icy body was explored by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft back in January 2019. The images captured show that Arrokoth is made up of two spherical bodies stuck together ina shape similar to a snowman.
The technical codename for the cosmic body is 2014 MU69, having been called Ultima Thule by the team working on the New Horizons mission, after a mythical land in European literature described as beyond the limitations of the known world.
The initial name caused an angry reaction, as it had been co-opted by Nazis at the beginning of the 20th century as the land of the “Aryan” people. According to far-right German occultists, the Aryan population represented the proto-Indo-Europeans. The Thule society evolved into Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party, gaining negative connotations throughout the years.
The new name was also chosen by the New Horizons team and ratified by the International Astronomical Union, and NASA announced the news in a ceremony held at its headquarters on November 12.
Alan Stern, the principal investigator of New Horizons, said: “The name ‘Arrokoth’ reflects the inspiration of looking to the skies and wondering about the stars and worlds beyond our own.”
The feedback received for the new name was all positive and perceived as honoring by the Powhatan elders. They find it fitting that, since they are the original inhabitants of the land that is now called North America, discoveries made over their skies are given indigenous names.
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