Saturday, March 17, 2018

‘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  --  --   16 Mar 2018

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL –  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.

The 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 announced.
‘Ultima Thule’ is located in the Kuiper Belt and represents a pristine building block of the solar system.  It 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
Pluto, 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.
 “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.”

The New Horizons spacecraft is currently hibernating while the mission team plans the ‘Ultima Thule’ flyby.
“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 (IAU) after 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 becomes.” 

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.”
Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK and more space and mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: – – twitter @ken_kremer - ken at

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/

No comments:

Post a Comment