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11 February 2019, 10:44 | Edward Lowe
The latest conceptions of the shape of MU69More
The final photos that NASA'sNew Horizons spacecraft snapped of Ultima Thule during the probe's epic January 1 flyby reveal the distant object to be far flatter than scientists had thought, mission team members announced today (Feb. 8). The new images, taken when New Horizons was almost 9,000km from UltimaThule, will give Moore's team plenty to chew over. NASA on Friday released a video compiled using more than a dozen images that show UltimaThule may actually be, uh, much flatter than initially thought.
Rather than being two relatively spherical bodies in contact with each other, UltimaThule in this new analysis is determined to be much more squashed.
"We had an impression of UltimaThule based on the limited number of images returned in the days around the flyby, but seeing more data has significantly changed our view", principal investigator Alan Stern said in a statement.
Raw (left) and processed (right) images of UltimaThule as the New Horizons space craft sped away.
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After analyzing these new images, scientists say the larger lobe more closely resembles a large pancake, and the smaller lobe looks a bit like a walnut. Background stars, many of which are visible in the individual images, were a defining factor in bringing this image of UltimaThule out of the dark.
"But more importantly", he continued, "the new images are creating scientific puzzles about how such an object could even be formed. We've never seen something like this orbiting the Sun", he added. "Nothing quite like this has ever been captured in imagery".
New Horizons may have moved on from UltimaThule, but it still has plenty of images stored in its robotic brain. That glowing crescent visible in the darkness was actually blurred in the individual frames due to the extended exposure time used to give the camera's signal level a boost during what was a really rapid scan.
As New Horizons drifted through space at a speed of approximately 50,000kph, it was able to snap a number of fantastic photos of the object officially known as 2014 MU69. By seeing when they blinked out they put together the important new information about the actual shape of UltimaThule. The space rock called 2014 MU69, and nicknamed UltimaThule, is located 4 billion miles from Earth. Objects like UltimaThule represent an even earlier stage in that process, frozen in time for billions of years.
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Stars can be seen "blinking out" in the background of an animation created from several images stitched together as New Horizons flew by.
New Horizons' first images confirmed some predictions and dispelled others, revealing MU69 to be a snowman-shaped world with a rusty red hue that spins end-over-end like a propeller. UltimaThule's shape is definitely unique so far in the solar system and its origins could, in turn, refine or change theories about the origin of the solar system itself.
A sequence of 14 images taken by New Horizons has been processed and strung together to show the shape and movement of this odd object.
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