NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is flying at over 30,000 miles per hour towards its next target in the Kuiper Belt - the MU69 - and just recently the Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) has been named 'Ultima Thule'.
The spacecraft will arrive to Ultima Thule on January 1, 2019 as per plan. First discovered in 2014, MU69 lies about a billion miles past Pluto. NASA decided to give a new name to MU69, so, it started a contest late last year inviting suggestions from people to name New Horizons’ next target.
From among 34,000 entries, the space agency decided to stick with the nickname ‘Ultima Thule’ which means ‘beyond the borders of the known world.’ Ultima Thule basically refers to an extremely faraway place beyond the explored world.
“MU69 is humanity’s next Ultima Thule,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator. “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.”
Ultima Thule is just a nickname given to MU69. The International Astronomical Union will propose an official name for New Horizons once it arrives on the celestial body on the first day of 2019.
When New Horizons will finally reach Ultima Thule, it will only have a few hours to take photos of the KBO before it heads further on its way. The spacecraft will take a long time to send back the pictures and data to Earth, which will help scientists to know more about the mysterious objects orbiting in the distant reaches of our solar system.
New Horizons spacecraft has earned the title of one of the most distant objects human beings have ever launched.