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

James Marshall
October 6, 2019

In a gorgeous new image delivered by New Horizons we can see that Ultima Thule is actually two rocks of differing sizes flying in tandem and touching.

"Human beings are born, we change over time, and, eventually we die", says Jason Kalirai, civil space mission area executive at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

This image taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) is the most detailed of Ultima Thule returned so far by the New Horizons spacecraft. Scientists think that Ultima was formed by two separate entities coming together in a gentle kiss.

The first color photography of Ultima Thule was shared today and compared to our best-yet look at Pluto. "Meet Ultima Thule!" said lead investigator Alan Stern, doing little to hide his joy as he revealed a new sharper image of the cosmic body, taken at a distance as close as 17,000 miles (about 27,000 kilometers) with a resolution of 140 meters per pixel.

The spacecraft is kitted out with various instruments to examine Ultima Thule in more detail. It's so far away the picture took six hours to reach Earth. To create an accurate image (on the right), scientists had to produce a composite. Other data will continue streaming in for another 20 months, so for now we just have to be patient - it takes a while to download photos from the fringes of the solar system. Stern said during today's press conference that all systems are still green, and there's enough power to travel many more millions of miles.

NASA says that signals from the New Horizons show that it is healthy and is full of science data concerning Ultima Thule.

The man who chose the name "Ultima Thule" was the town's first postmaster, Joseph W. McKean, "a veteran of the Florida Wars and an "intimate friend" of Andrew Jackson and Davy Crockett", notes the Arkansas Records Catalog.

"We have far less than 1 percent of the data stored aboard the solid state recorders on New Horizons already down on the ground", Stern said. It's located in the Kuiper Belt, an icy region of our solar system beyond the orbit of the major planets. "These are the only remaining basic building blocks".

This is just the beginning of what we will learn about this otherworldly object.

Ultima Thule is about 1 billion miles from Pluto.

If confirmed, this configuration could represent a precious snapshot of planetary formation in action, supporting the idea that the massive, orbiting bodies in our inner solar system assembled in part through the rapid coalescing of pebbles and dust.

Until now, scientists have been unable to determine exactly what makes up these primordial Kuiper belt objects.

New Horizons rocketed from Cape Canaveral, Florida in 2006. "'Beyond the limits of the known world' - that's such a attractive metaphor for what we're doing this year".

"It's pretty easy to remember", said Stern, who is based at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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