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NASA Renames Icy Rock After Backlash Over Nazi Links

NASA has officially named an icy asteroid 'Arrokoth', which is causing a lot less furore than its last name.

On January 1, NASA's spacecraft New Horizons made history when it made the furthest planetary fly-by ever, as it flew past the rock which was about 1.6 billion kilometres beyond Pluto.

But at the time, the nickname of the designated asteroid (486958) 2014 MU69 was 'Ultima Thule', resulting in backlash over the choice of name and its Nazi links.

Asteroid (486958) 2014 MU69 has been given its official name -- Arrokoth. Image: EPA

Thule is referred to in ancient Greek and Roman mythology as being the 'farthest place north'.

'Ultima Thule', meaning most distant North, is mentioned in the poem Aeneid written by Roman poet Virgil.

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NASA Under Fire For Nazi-Linked Asteroid Name

The choice of name given to an asteroid by NASA is being condemned over Nazi connotations.

In 1918, the Thule Society was created by German occultist Rudolf von Sebottendorff, and this society famously sponsored the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei -- which was later to become the Nazi Party.

The Thule Society, named after the mythical land from Greco-Roman literature, believed in the Aryan race, and one of its goals was to prove 'Aryans' came from a lost continent or 'Ultima Thule'.

Thule Society poster, 1919.

The Society was notably against Jews and Communism in Germany and appropriated the swastika as one of its symbols.

NASA chose the name Ultima Thule after opening a suggestion forum to the public in 2017.

Now the most distant world ever explored 4 billion miles away in the Kuiper Belt finally has an official name -- Arrokoth.

In a statement, NASA said that means "sky" in the language of the Native American Powhatan people.

Lead scientist Alan Stern says the new name "reflects the inspiration of looking to the skies".

“That desire to learn is at the heart of the New Horizons mission, and we’re honoured to join with the Powhatan community and people of Maryland in this celebration of discovery," he said.

The Powhatan and New Horizons have regional ties. The spacecraft is operated from Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab in Laurel. The Hubble Space Telescope - which discovered Arrokoth in 2014 -- has its science operations in Baltimore.

Arrokoth is one of thousands of known icy worlds in the Kuiper Belt, known as the "third world" of the solar system, past the inner terrestrial planets and the outer gas giants.

“Data from the newly-named Arrokoth, has given us clues about the formation of planets and our cosmic origins,” said Marc Buie, of the Southwest Research Institute.

“We believe this ancient body, composed of two distinct lobes that merged into one entity, may harbour answers that contribute to our understanding of the origin of life on Earth.”

With AAP.