WASHINGTON, Nov. 12 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. space agency NASA officially named a Kuiper Belt flyby object "Arrokoth," a Native American term meaning "sky" in the Powhatan/Algonquian language, on Tuesday.
The object, a billion miles (about 1.6 billion km) beyond Pluto and once nicknamed "Ultima Thule," is the most distant object ever explored by mankind. NASA's New Horizons spacecraft performed the farthest flyby in history as it approached the Arrokoth on Jan. 1 this year.
"The name Arrokoth reflects the inspiration of looking to the skies and wondering about the stars and worlds beyond our own," said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute.
The New Horizons team has proposed the name to the International Astronomical Union and Minor Planets Center, the international authority for naming Kuiper Belt objects.
The Kuiper Belt is the vast "third zone" of the solar system beyond the inner terrestrial planets and the outer gas giant planets. Arrokoth, one of the thousands of known small icy worlds in the Kuiper Belt, was discovered in 2014 by Hubble Space Telescope.
The 36-km-long Arrokoth is a contact binary, consisting of a large, strangely flat lobe connected to a smaller, rounder lobe at a juncture nicknamed "the neck," according to the first peer-reviewed scientific results published on the journal Science in May.
Arrokoth is very red, even redder than the much larger, 2,400-km-wide Pluto, according to the study.
"We believe this ancient body, composed of two distinct lobes that merged into one entity, may harbor answers that contribute to our understanding of the origin of life on Earth," said Marc Buie with the Southwest Research Institute.
Arrokoth got its name since both the Hubble Space Telescope and the New Horizons mission are operated out of Maryland, rendering a tie to the Chesapeake Bay region to the Powhatan people.
"Bestowing the name Arrokoth signifies the strength and endurance of the indigenous Algonquian people of the Chesapeake region," said Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division. "Their heritage continues to be a guiding light for all who search for meaning and understanding of the origins of the universe and the celestial connection of humanity."