Ultima Thule: Clearest image yet of 'snowman' space rock released by NASA

Pat Wise
January 3, 2019

After successfully completing its Pluto flyby in 2015, the agency redirected the spacecraft to visit an even more distant object known as Ultima Thule.

May says the project "epitomises the human spirit's unceasing desire to understand the universe we inhabit" and adds: "Everyone who has devoted so much energy to this mission since its launch in January 2006 will be feeling they are actually inside that small but intrepid vehicle as it pulls off another spectacular close encounter".

This easing together of the two lobes of 2014 MU69 occurred over 4 billion years ago at speeds between 1 to 2 miles per hour, according to Jeff Moore of the geography and geophysics investigation teams for New Horizons. Ultima Thule is a temporary nickname until a formal name is selected, likely this year.

Ultima Thule, or more formally 2014 MU69, is a member of the Kuiper Belt, a ring-shaped region of icy objects orbiting the sun. "We are seeing a physical representation of the beginning of planetary formation, frozen in time", he said. Ultima Thule is about 20 by 10 miles (32 by 16 kilometers) in size, but its composition is still unknown.

It's no simple matter to reach the outer solar system, so NASA is making the most of the opportunity it has with the New Horizons probe. The historic imagery reveals that the 21-mile-long (33 kilometers) Ultima is a "contact binary" composed of two roughly spherical lobes.

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It is hoped the information taken from Ultima will provide clues as to the formation of the Solar System. The researchers learned that the unexpectedly low variation in the light curve came from the shape-two spheres rotating have a smaller change in their surface area from the spacecraft's point of view than an ellipse would.

The ice world also is a relatively dark object, reflecting very little light.

"Unfortunately the approach images we're showing you that came down first just aren't conducive to determining whether there are craters on the surface or not", said Mr. The left image is color-enhanced.

Ultima Thule has a mottled appearance the colour of tiresome brick. A second batch of photos released Wednesday was more clear, prompting mission scientists to narrow their description from "bowling pin" to "snowman", AP reports.

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