New images from NASA confirm Ultima Thule's flat shape

James Marshall
February 11, 2019

"The shape model we have derived from all of the existing Ultima Thule imagery is remarkably consistent with what we have learned from the new crescent images", said New Horizons co-investigator Simon Porter.

The incredible 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.

On the first day of the New Year, humanity became a little bit more familiar with the unknown.

Even after New Horizons said goodbye to Ultima Thule, its final glimpse has revealed something completely unexpected.

But, it spins end-over-end like a propeller.

"While the very nature of a fast flyby in some ways limits how well we can determine the true shape of Ultima Thule, the new results clearly show [the object] is much flatter than originally believed and much flatter than expected", said New Horizons project scientists Hal Weaver. "Nothing quite like this has ever been captured in imagery".

New Horizons - the legendary spacecraft that captured these images of MU69 - shot the latest sequence of pictures on January 1, 2019, as the spacecraft departed MU69 at 31,000 miles per hour and hurtled deeper into the black abyss of space, toward still-unknown destinations.

Stars can be seen "blinking out" in the background of an animation created from several images stitched together as New Horizons flew by.

Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of Southwest Research Institute, said, "We had an impression of Ultima Thule based on the limited number of images returned in the days around the flyby, but seeing more data has significantly changed our view".

The larger lobe, nicknamed "Ultima", all the more intently looks like a giant hotcake and the smaller lobe, nicknamed "Thule", is formed like a dented walnut. By combining the approach images that had already been taken and looking at stars obscured by the Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) as New Horizons hurtled past, scientists have been able to trace an outline of 2014 MU69.

It's a unusual little world. The bottom view is the team's current best shape model for Ultima Thule, but still carries some uncertainty as an entire region was essentially hidden from view, and not illuminated by the Sun, during the New Horizons flyby.

'We are seeing a physical representation of the beginning of planetary formation, frozen in time, ' Moore says. We can only wait to see how sci-fi this gets.

'That bowling pin is gone, ' the leader of the New Horizons joked, in reference to the first blurry images sent home after the flyby. 'It's a snowman, if anything at all'.

Scientists studying the distant object known as Ultima Thule are revising ideas about its shape after examining the latest images downlinked to Earth. The small, icy object is shown spinning end-over-end like a propeller.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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