TMRO and the Ultima Thule fly-by


Looks like this is coming to a close. Thank you to:

  • Tony Darnell - Deep Astronomy
  • Christian Ready - Launch Pad Astronomy
  • Lisa Stojanovski - TMRO (and Jared for a while, and of course the off-screen TMRO people)
  • And all the guests over 24 hours.

This has been an amazing program to bring in the New Year.

And you see more live, mobile reporting by Christian.

Summary: Wow!



for those that missed this morning’s press conferences.

the I’m ok signal.

the most recent pixelated image


It’s been a great couple of days seeing the data start to slowly trickle in - and see an image of this contact binary.
But as for the “Ultima Thule” name and it’s Nazi connotations (after my Twitter blew up about it yesterday and today, reading stories from Phil Plait and a rabbit hole of disappointment by scientists like Pamela Gay (per Cosmoquest’s Twitch stream) and others on Twitter about the name from this story NASA Named Its Next New Horizons Target Ultima Thule, a Mythical Land With a Nazi Connection ), I’m back to calling this object MU69-2014 or 2014MU69.

Because Nazis ruin everything.

Hopefully the IAU or MPC (whomever names asteroids) will give it a name soon, because “2014mu69” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.




The amazing measurement of the shape of 2014 MU69 by timing its occultations of a distant star as observed from multiple telescopes has me wondering more generally: how often do nearer objects “get in the way” of observations of more distant objects? Do astronomers even notice when it happens?


Don’t let the fact that someone reprehensible stole a symbol for their own use make you abandon it. Just remember the original meaning. The svastika for example was originally an indus valley symbol of some kind, probably an offical government stamp. In the following thousands of years Hindi and Jain cultures have since adopted it and it can still be seen all over India as a symbol fortune (which is part of why the Nazis wanted it, a symbol of fortune and justification for their “reich”).

These seals date from 2600BC-1900BC:

For scale, this svastika is 1.75 cm across (according to the British Museum where these are held).

Likewise the phrase “Ultima Thule” predates Germany by rather a lot:
“To the Romans Thulé, variously identified as Iceland or Mainland in the Shetland Isles, marked the extreme northern limit of the known world.” - Thule - Wiktionary

See here the Carta Marina (made in 1539 by Olaus Magnus, Archbishop of Uppsala, Primate of Sweden):

The map features an island labled Tile (a late latinization of of norse Þȳle: read thoo-lay):

The problem is that this island doesn’t show up on modern maps, even though the other island groups are well labeled (which is quite strange since the map seems to say it has a population of 30,000, “XXXMILLIA”)…

It is still not certain why this is the case. Although, probably, this is merely a cartographical (or transnational) error, and “Tile” was just another of the islands of the Orkneys. At the beginning of the 1900s however, its absence was a source of occult mystery.

It was this mysterious nature that attracted the attention of an occult group, who even named themselves after it: the “Thule Society” (founded 1918). They postulated that there was a magical “shangrala-like” land at the north pole where people could live 1000 years. They based this idea off ancient Greek accounts wherein the mythical land of Hyperborea (land beyond the northwind) included an island called Θῡ́λη (thuli). For a more familiar example, you might think of Thule as being like the “lost city of Atlantis”, where secret magics might still be found (at least according to the occultists… who were basically the flat earthers of the day).

After the Nazi party was elected, the leaders were eager to write themselves into the history and mythology of the world. They used the Thule Society knowledge of global legends of artifacts of power and ancient historical accounts to justify their right to rule. They also plastered various ancient symbols all over their paraphernalia, including svastikas (a symbol of what they called “Arian” people, i.e. the indus valley people,… i.e. the original “master race” from who they are supposed to be descended) and the eagles from roman battles standards (an allusion to Rome being the 1st reich and Germany continuing that tradition… basically just another claim to ancient entitlement). The reality of these claims is beyond dubious, perhaps even laughable, but they didn’t let that stop them.

The Nazis spent a ridiculous amount of effort hunting down art and artifacts, either to fund their war, to enrich themselves, or to write themselves into the history of other cultures. In any case, they had no more proper claim to these cultural symbols than they had claim to the paintings you still see being returned to their original owners. It would be tragic to abandon something nice forever just because some jerk once lied by saying it belonged to him.


Alan Stern said it much more succinctly:


I admit, when I first read of this discussion a couple of days ago, my first thought was similar to your last sentence. Let’s reclaim the phrase from the Nazi’s and move on, since if Stern uses it (and I admire him immensely) then it must be ok. I’d never heard the negative associations before, so why let it bother me?

But then I read more and heard more from other people I admire, and felt it would be good if the nickname goes and proper name comes sooner rather than later.

Appropriated iconography may only have local connotations but we still should be careful not to do it. Someone in India may not have the same negative feelings about the swastika than someone in the west. Emily Lakdawalla tweeted about receiving heirloom jewelery from an Indian aunt Emily Lakdawalla on Twitter: "Once I received a beautiful gift of heirloom jewelry from an Indian aunty. A large gold brooch with dozens of rubies and diamonds. Beautiful work. But it was a swastika. I thanked her and put it in a drawer. It doesn’t matter what it means in India. It can’t be used, by me, here." Likewise, I’m never going to be ready to “reclaim” the swastika. Ultima Thule has also been used by an alt-right Scandinavian band, so some European tweeps I know have never been comfortable using the nick-name. Words matter, especially during a time of a rise in Naziism in America. The Nazis were also fascinated by space and rockets, so I think more careful use of words is important in space naming.

I think it’s unfortunate that the NH team is doubling down on using the name, and talking about this, when the really should be talking about the awesomeness that is the flyby.


If we’re going to be offended, it should be based on the stated intent of the speaker of the words, not on unintended, and quite possibly unknowable, hidden associations from the past. Otherwise, we’d be endlessly walking on eggshells trying not to offend someone.


The “ultimate edge of the known world” is trolling flat earthers! :earth_americas::earth_africa::milky_way::sparkles::stars::star2:


The team knew about the alternate meaning of the phrase. They went ahead anyway.


It’s kinda funny to be arguing about vague nazi associations in modern space exploration, when the Saturn V program was run by Von Braun, a well known… American.

That passed away; this also may.

Alright, I’m gonna self Godwin here… enough with the nazis on with the science!


So, maybe it’s a time to say and understand once and for all:
we all are earthlings.



Hopefully not for much longer… I’d like for some of us to be Martians in the near future. :slight_smile:


I feel great respect and gratitude to such a people. Who have dedicated their lives and efforts to find out who is out there on the horizon. Trying to learn more about the universe and share this knowledge with us. It’s just amazing.


some day, some day :wink:


errrr … Isn’t that exactly where our societies are. It really doesn’t matter what your opinion is someone else will be offended by it. Even Facts that have full scientific proof are subject to this over sensitive sue for any reason culture (Flat Earthers spring to mind). Hopefully it something time will fix … now i have expressed an opinion i have upset someone