CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The most distant world ever explored, 4 billion miles away from Earth, finally has an official name: Arrokoth. It means "sky" in the language of the Native American Powhatan people, NASA said Tuesday.
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew past the snowman-shaped Arrokoth on New Year's Day, 3½ years after exploring Pluto. At the time, the small icy world 1 billion miles beyond Pluto was nicknamed Ultima Thule, given its vast distance from us.
"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."
The name was picked because of the Powhatan's ties to the Chesapeake Bay region.
New Horizons is operated from Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland. The Hubble Space Telescope — which discovered Arrokoth in 2014 — has its science operations in Baltimore.
The New Horizons team got consent for the name from Powhatan Tribal elders and representatives, according to NASA. The International Astronomical Union and its Minor Planet Center approved the choice.
Arrokoth is among countless objects in the Kuiper Belt, a vast Twilight Zone similar to the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter but farther away, beyond the orbit of Neptune. New Horizons will observe some of these objects from afar as it makes its way deeper into space.
(The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for content.)
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