NASA renames distant ice world after Nazi-link controversy | News | DW | 13.11.2019
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NASA renames distant ice world after Nazi-link controversy

NASA has officially named a small icy rock beyond Pluto, scrapping a nickname which was accused of having Nazi connotations. It marks a new beginning for scientists studying 2014 MU69.

NASA on Tuesday officially named the most distant world ever explored by a spacecraft "Arrokoth" after its initial nickname of "Ultima Thule" drew backlash over its Nazi connotations.

Arrokoth, or "sky" in the Native American Powhatan language, is an icy rock located 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away from earth. NASA's New Horizon's spacecraft flew past the small icy world on New Year's Day, three and a half years after exploring Pluto.

"The name 'Arrokoth' reflects the inspiration of looking to the skies," lead scientist Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute said in a statement, "and wondering about the stars and worlds beyond our own."

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The New Horizons team, operated from Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab in Maryland, picked the name for the rock, which had the technical designation 2014 MU69, because of the Powhatan's ties to the Chesapeake Bay region. It got consent to use the name from Powhatan tribal elders and representatives, according to NASA.

Nazi-linked nickname

The team nicknamed the world Ultima Thule after a mythical northern land in Greek and Roman literature described as the "borders of the known world." 

However, that name was co-opted by far-right German occultists in the early 20th century as the fabled ancestral home of the "Aryan" people, the term used to describe proto-Indo-Europeans. Members of the Thule Society founded the political party that evolved into Adolf Hitler's Nazi party.

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NASA insists Ultima Thule was only ever a nickname, according to the Agence France Presse. The American space organization did not say whether or not the Nazi controversy influenced their decision to discard the nickname. 

dv/se (AFP, AP)

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