January 19, 2019

Nasa's New Horizon Probe Reveals Snowman-like Shape Of Ultima Thule

03 January 2019, 12:40 | Edward Lowe

Nasa's New Horizon Probe Reveals Snowman-like Shape Of Ultima Thule

Icy Ultima Thule, far beyond Pluto, looks like a snowman

After a day in which pictures of a distant space world made it look like a peanut, Nasa has unveiled the first photo from a flyby of Ultima Thule.

"Studying Ultima Thule is helping us understand how planets form - both those in our own solar system and those orbiting other stars in our galaxy", Moore said.

Now they will work to download and look through all of the data sent back over that long distance, a process that could take years.

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New results confirmed that the object rotates with a period of 15 hours or so, and is very dark, reflecting only 6 to 13 per cent of the incoming sunlight, Cathy Olkin, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute, said in a press conference.

"I'm here to tell you that last night, overnight, the United States spacecraft New Horizons conducted the farthest exploration in the history of humankind, and did so spectacularly".

The first resolved photos of Ultima Thule have come in from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, which zoomed past the frigid faraway object just after midnight yesterday (Jan. 1). The New Horizons team has named the individual lobes, calling the smaller one Thule and the larger one Ultima. "New Horizons has set a new bar for state-of-the-art spacecraft navigation".

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Scientist Jeff Moore of Nasa's Ames Research Center said the two spheres formed when small, icy pieces coalesced in space billions of years ago.

NASA originally described Ultima Thule's shape as "similar to a bowling pin" that is "spinning like a propeller", but also said it could potentially be two objects in tight orbit with one another. These images, released January 2, were taken a day earlier from a distance of 18,000 miles (28,000 kilometers) with a scale of 730 feet (140 meters) per pixels.

Since there are two separate lobes to the object, the team felt they needed to come up with a name for each. NASA then extended the mission to analyse a new target, a Kuiper Belt Object called (486958) 2014 MU69, or MU69 for short.

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Ultima Thule has a mottled appearance the colour of boring brick. The centre image taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) has a higher spatial resolution than MVIC by approximately a factor of five. "From here out the data will just get better and better!"

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