Composite image of the primordial contact binary Ultima Thule now named Arrokoth taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. A contact binary is made of two smaller, ice-rich asteroids that became joined at the hip so to speak during a previous slow collision. Together they’re 22 miles (36 km) long and currently about 4 billion miles from Earth. NASA / JPL-Caltech / JHUAPL
Remember Ultima Thule? That was the temporary name given to the remote asteroid New Horizons flew by on January 1, 2019. The name referred to the distant unknown, an idea or object at the limit of our understanding. And indeed the 22-mile-wide contact binary asteroid fits the bill, orbiting the sun every 298 years with an average distance of half a billion miles beyond Pluto.
In a fitting tribute to the farthest flyby ever conducted by spacecraft, the Ultima Thule has been officially named Arrokoth (AR-uh-koth), a Native American term meaning “sky” in the Powhatan/Algonquian language. NASA’s New Horizons team proposed the name to the International Astronomical Union after getting permission from the Powhatan tribal elders. Earlier this month, Powhatan elders joined team members at NASA’s headquarters in a ceremony to make the name official.
Rev. Nick Miles, ...