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Asteroid’s name draws controversy

May 20, 2019

We live in a time when names and symbols from another era can easily be twisted to stand for something considered offensive by some segment of the population, so we shouldn’t be surprised that a rocky object 4 billion miles away in space is making waves here on Earth because of its nickname. This past New Year’s Eve NASA’s New Horizons probe paid an up-close visit to an object in the Kuiper Belt, out beyond Neptune, that looks like a giant barbell. At that point it already had a scientific name — (486958) 2014 MU69. But NASA decided to have a contest to give the object a nickname, and Mjolnir, the name for Thor’s hammer, came in first. NASA, however, decided to go with the seventh most popular contest entry, Ultima Thule.

The name, which has Latin origins, represents what lies beyond the known world. However, the Nazis appropriated the term to stand for their concept of an Aryan paradise. While the Third Reich is long gone, today’s white supremacists still use the term. NASA isn’t backing down — yet — saying it’s time Ultima Thule stood for something positive again.

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