A dark legacy of the Nazi Era looms far beyond Pluto in the cold outermost reaches of our solar system. Earlier this week we reported that NASA’s New Horizons mission team published the first results of its New Year’s 2019 flyby of the farthest world ever explored, a planetary building block and Kuiper Belt object called Ultima Thule, also known less poetically as object 2014 MU69.
In 1938, decades before the 2019 New Year’s party celebrating the New Horizon’s Mission discovery, the Nazis, so the apocryphal story goes, sent a large team of explorers – including scientists, military units and building crews on war ships and submarines – to the Queen Maud Land region of Antarctica.
While mapping the Queen Maud Land, reports Mental Floss, they discovered a vast network of underground warm-water rivers and caves. One of these caves extended down as far as 20-30 miles and contained a large geothermal lake. The cave was explored and construction teams were sent in to build a city-sized base, dubbed Base 211 or New Berlin, that hosted the SS, the Thule Society, “serpent cults,” various Nazi occultists, the Illuminati, and other shadowy groups.
Ultima Thule or Thule “is a concept that’s very malleable, it’s been around along time,” Eric Kurlander, a historian at Stetson University who has studied Nazi supernatural beliefs, told Newsweek. “It’s not inherently political.” But he added that applying the term to the distant target of a spacecraft might have appealed to Nazis. “The Nazis were fascinated by space and rocketships and things like that,” Kurlander said.
At some point, the Germans either discovered abandoned alien technology or made contact with extraterrestrial explorers ). They learned or were taught how to replicate the alien technology, and used it to begin developing a number of super weapons including an advanced aircraft called an “antigravity-disk,” or flying saucer.
While many of these weapons were not ready for use in World War II, the base and the ability to manufacture these weapons might still exist and the Germans/aliens/some cult or secret society (depending on which conspiracy theorist you ask) will eventually launch a New World Order from it.
Fast forward from Nazi mythology to the present and the New Horizon discovery of Ultima Thule: why did the science team bless it with a name so enamored by Nazis? For most of its centuries-old history, Ultima Thule, or Thule alone, writes Marina Koren in The Atlantic, has been used to describe places beyond the limits of the known world, like hard-to-reach mythical Antarctic world described above.
“During the rise of Hitler,” Koren reports, “members of the Nazi party in Germany imagined Ultima Thule as a land of Aryan purity. In the late 1990s, white-supremacist inmates in Portland, Oregon, produced a newspaper called Thule that printed racist and anti-Semitic articles. The Swedish rock band Ultima Thule, a group popular with right-wing listeners and once sponsored by a neo-Nazi movement, released its latest album in 2015.”
“I think New Horizons is an example, one of the best examples, in our time of raw exploration, and the term Ultima Thule—which is very old, many centuries old, possibly over 1,000 years old—is a wonderful meme for exploration,” New Horizon’s lead scientist, Alan Stern said at a press conference after the flyby. “And that’s why we chose it. And I would say that just because some bad guys once liked the term, we’re not going to let them hijack it.”
“I had never heard the term Ultima Thule before we had our naming campaign,” Mark Showalter, a planetary astronomer at the SETI Institute and investigator on the New Horizons mission who led the naming process, told Newsweek. “‘Beyond the limits of the known world’—that’s such a beautiful metaphor for what we’re doing this year.”
Ultima Thule was one of about 34,000 names submitted by an online nomination process, reported Meghan Bartels in Newsweek in March of 2018: “Several of those names were discarded as having been clearly the product of an organized campaign, and Showalter and his colleagues did look into each of the names that became contenders. He said that about 40 people nominated Ultima Thule—many fewer than for the names suggested by ballot-stuffing, but a relatively common suggestion. Ultima Thule and 36 other candidates were then put up for a public vote last November and December.”
Showalter uncovered the Nazi associations as he went through the list, Bartels reported. But he and other scientists liked the original meaning of Ultima Thule, and it seems that the term’s long, dreamlike history outweighed the more recent, troubling connotations. “‘Beyond the limits of the known world’—that’s such a beautiful metaphor for what we’re doing this year,” he said.
As far back as during the late Roman empire, people have applied the term to distant, cold, northern lands—both mythological ones and the real Arctic. “I like the idea that it actually comes from a time when cartography and mythology were mixed together,” he said. When mapmakers passed the boundaries of what they actually knew existed, “they just started making things up.”
“The really interesting thing to me is something so far away can be given a name that makes people upset here on Earth,” says Alice Gorman, a space archaeologist who studies the heritage of human-made objects in space. “It’s a really clear message that this stuff is not just space science. These things have an impact. Naming things the solar system and naming celestial bodies actually reflects a version of Earth back to us.”
The final, formal name will need to be approved by the International Astronomical Union, which oversees all names in space, and Ultima Thule doesn’t meet their criteria. Showalter says he expects permanent names to be confirmed before the end of 2019.
“We’re very, very tired of talking about 2014 MU69,” Showalter concluded. “Any name is better than 2014 MU69.”
Image credit: An artist’s depiction of the New Horizons spacecraft at 2014 MU69, dubbed Ultima Thule.