NASA and the New Horizons team are pleased to announce that our target body in the Kuiper Belt, formally known as “(486958) 2014 MU69“, is being nicknamed Ultima Thule. The name comes from medieval mapmakers, where Thule (pronounced “thoo-lee”) was a distant and unknown island thought to be the northernmost place on Earth. “Ultima Thule” (which translates as “farthest Thule” or “beyond Thule”) has come to be used as a metaphor for any mysterious place “beyond the borders of the known world”. This is an apt metaphor for the tiny object, four billion miles away, that will be the next destination of the New Horizons spacecraft.
The name was nominated independently by about 40 participants in the Frontier Worlds campaign, and was ranked very highly in the voting. Ultima Thule will serve as the unofficial nickname for MU69 through the flyby on New Year’s day, 2019. Later in 2019, we will work with the International Astronomical Union to establish a formal, permanent name for the body.
Thank you to everyone who participated in the naming campaign! Now join us on our ultimate journey.
–Mark Showalter and the New Horizons Science Team
Here is the complete list of names we voted on, including the dates during which they appeared on the ballot.
Note that we removed names occasionally to make room for new names. The dates during which each name appeared on the ballot are listed here. See our Vote Tally pages for a ranking of the most popular names.
We are grateful to everyone who has participated in the Frontier Worlds naming campaign for MU69. The New Horizons Project and NASA are already starting to review the results of the campaign. We hope to announce the informal name for MU69 soon.
The campaign involved 115,000 participants from 193 nations. We received over 34,000 nominations! The imagination and creativity that went into the nominees was amazing, and I think that is reflected in the 37 diverse names that we placed on the ballot. I regret that we were only able to use a tiny fraction of the nominees, but NASA will review all of the submissions before making its selection.
Wanted: A Personalized License Plate in the Kuiper Belt
The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) issues every car a license plate. Most contain a meaningless sequence of letters and digits. License plates serve one purpose only, which is to make each vehicle unique. For those of us who crave something more interesting, or at least pronounceable, the DMV gives us another option—a personalized license plate.
In a similar way, the Minor Planet Center (MPC) gives every body in the solar system a unique identifier. The New Horizons spacecraft is now headed toward a small, ancient world in the Kuiper Belt, at the edge of our solar system. The MPC has issued its license plate: “(486958) 2014 MU69”. Within the New Horizons science team, we have shortened that to “MU69”; it’s an improvement but, in conversation, it still amounts to five meaningless syllables.
The time has come to personalize the license plate for this frontier world. We are asking for your help. We need a nickname, or perhaps several, to talk about the next destination in the ongoing voyage of discovery by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. This is your opportunity to submit your best ideas and to share your opinions about a better way to refer to the body (or bodies!) that we are about to explore.