New nickname for Pluto-explorer's next target: Ultima Thule

This illustration provided by NASA shows the New Horizons spacecraft. On Wednesday, March 14, 2018, NASA said the spacecraft is headed toward a New Ye

This illustration provided by NASA shows the New Horizons spacecraft. On Wednesday, March 14, 2018, NASA said the spacecraft is headed toward a New Ye

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — There's a new nickname for the icy world next up for the spacecraft that explored Pluto: Ultima Thule (THOO-lee).

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is headed toward a New Year's Day encounter with this mysterious object or two, 1 billion miles beyond Pluto on the fringes of our solar system.

Its official name is 2014 MU69. The mission team wanted a less technical and more inspiring name and, late last year, sought public input . Announced Tuesday, the nickname comes from medieval literature and refers to a distant, unknown world.

New Horizons will fly past it Jan. 1, making it humanity's most distant encounter with another world. Ultima Thule is considerably smaller than Pluto, explored by New Horizons in 2015.

The team will choose a more formal name following the flyby.