NASA’s New Horizons exploration conducted the farthest ever flyby to distant Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 which is 4 billion miles from Earth. Now, it is officially named Arrokoth which is a Native American term that means sky in the Powhatan and Algonquian language, according to the space agency.
The official ceremony to publish the name took place at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, which was opened with a traditional Algonquian song by Nick Miles from the Pamunkey tribe.
'Arrokoth': a Native American term meaning “sky” in the Powhatan/Algonquian language. With consent from Powhatan Tribal elders and representatives, it's now the official name for the Kuiper Belt object visited by @NASANewHorizons. About today's ceremony: https://t.co/1jp3Y2CvNX pic.twitter.com/ni7TGq8zYE
— NASA (@NASA) November 12, 2019
The object was previously assigned to as Ultima Thule which essentially means “beyond Thule,” which infers something that lies beyond what is known. At a press conference after the flyby in early 2019, Alan Stern, the mission’s principal investigator, addressed that : I’ve said it a number of times, I think New Horizons is an example, one of the best examples in our time, of raw exploration, and the term Ultima Thule, which is very old, many centuries old, possibly over a thousand years old, is a wonderful name for exploration. I would say that just because some bad guys once liked that term, we’re not going to let them hijack it.
The name Ultima Thule was just a temporary nickname. Stern said: The name ‘Arrokoth’ reflects the inspiration of looking to the skies, and wondering about the stars and worlds beyond our own. … we’re honored to join with the Powhatan community and people of Maryland in this celebration of discovery.
Seniors and spokespeople from the Powhatan tribe provided their permission for the name, which was submitted to the IAU’s Minor Planet Center. The institution acts as the global authority for naming space objects such as those found in the Kuiper Belt.
Given that both the New Horizons mission and the Hubble Space Telescope are operated from Maryland, the team wanted to use a name that would connect the local culture of the Chesapeake Bay region and the Powhatan tribe to the space missions.
New Horizons team member at the Southwest Research Institute Marc Buie said: Data from the newly-named Arrokoth, has given us clues about the formation of planets and our cosmic origins. We believe this ancient body, composed of two distinct lobes that merged into one entity, may harbor answers that contribute to our understanding of the origin of life on Earth.