More than 115,000 people submitted their entries to name the next body that NASA’s New Horizons mission is expected to flyby next year. According to the statistics, some 115,000 people submitted around 34,000 names for the object 2014 MU69 which lies in the Kuiper Belt, the farthest object that any mission has ever flown to. The New Horizons Mission team shortlisted the nickname of the object as “Ultima Thule” that the spacecraft will make a close flyby on January 1, 2019. It is around 1.6 Billion Kms away from Pluto, the farthest and outermost planet of our solar system.
NASA’s New Horizons Mission team asked the public to submit nicknames for its next target, a Kuiper Belt object named “2014 MU69” which is located at the distance of 40.91AU from Sun and 41.29AU from the Earth. To put things in perspective, the round-trip time taken by light to this distant object from Earth is 11:28:50 Hrs. Mark Showalter led the launch of nickname campaign in early November 2015 which was hosted at SETI Institute of Mountain View, California. The online contest saw the registration of over 115,000 candidates and more than 34,000 nicknames. The campaign was scheduled to end by early December, however, it was ended after a five-day delay to accumulate votes for the names registered. Each nickname received votes from people according to which, 37 nicknames were selected for further shortlisting based on their popularity.
Out of the 37 nicknames, 8 names were nominated by the team while the rest 29 were publicly nominated, however, during the last phase of voting, the names nominated by the team were discarded. Out of the 29 nominated nicknames, people were asked to vote for the best. The top 10 names included Pharos, Pangu, Pinnacle, Abeona, Rubicon, Tiramisu, Mjolnir, Ultima Thule. Although Mjolnir or Thor’s Hammer in Marvel Universe and Norse mythology won the most votes, the team ultimately selected the seventh popular nickname i.e. Ultima Thule which means ‘beyond the known worlds’. Pronounced as Ultima Thoo Lee, the name depicts the true spirit of a distant object visited by any man-made object.
The team said that it would wait until the New Horizons Mission sweeps past the ‘Ultima Thule’ on January 1, 2019, since it is still unknown whether it is a single body or a binary system or if it comprises of multiple celestial bodies. After the confirmation, the team will send the formal name to the International Astronomical Union that will change the ‘KBO-2014 MU69’ and it will be christened as ‘Ultima Thule’. As per the available data, the target is expected to be as wide as 12 miles which can also be the case if this is a binary system.
But ultimately, it is not the first time that NASA New Horizons Mission has gone far and discovered object seen never before. On July 14, 2015, the mission swept past Pluto, the outermost ‘dwarf’ planet located at around 39AU away from Earth making it a historic journey. Although images of this distant planet were available, the mission sent more detailed and clear pictures of Pluto shedding light on its frigid and complex world that orbits around the sun every 248 years in its special orbit titled 17-degrees unlike any other planet in our solar system.