NASA Probe Sends Back First Images Of Ultima Thule

NASA Probe Sends Back First Images Of Ultima Thule

NASA Probe Sends Back First Images Of Ultima Thule

And the image taken by the New Horizons spacecraft now make it look more like a snowman, minus any facial features.

The latest images transmitted by the New Horizons probe, as it continues the 20-month process of sending Earthwards all that lovely science data collected during its flyby, show Ultima Thule is actually a "contact binary" consisting of two connected spheres.

It's also a glimpse 4.5 billion years back in time, to the origins of the solar system, because the distant planetesimal has nearly certainly orbited unchanged in the frozen Kuiper Belt since it formed.

The celestial body was nicknamed Ultima Thule before scientists could say for sure whether it was one object or two.

"Ultima Thule" was one of 37 contenders that the New Horizons team selected from 34,000 public suggestions and put to the vote.

"This flyby is a historic achievement", said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. New Horizons is so far away it can only send data at about 2,000 bits per second, so it took time to get the new, higher-quality images.

Now, scientists have found that Ultima Thule is 19 miles long, and completes its rotation in 15 hours.

The views were captured by the piano-sized probe's high-resolution camera from a distance of roughly 18,000 miles, a half-hour before the time of close approach on New Year's Day.

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The observations should help scientists ascertain how deep-freeze objects like Ultima Thule formed, along with the rest of the solar system, 4.5 billion years ago.

Additionally, the New Horizons team can now definitely say that-just as the images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope several years ago tentatively predicted-Ultima Thule's hue is a toasty brownish-red.

This illustration provided by NASA shows the New Horizons spacecraft.

In 2006, an incredible spacecraft was launched towards the dwarf planet Pluto, known as New Horizons.

Many of us know that the most distant of the known planets in the solar system was the tiny world we called planet Pluto. The pea shape is now no more relevant, and ultimately the scientists have been to the conclusion that the shape of the Ultima Thule is like that of a snowman.

"We aren't saying there are craters on it or not", Stern said, noting that greater shadowing in subsequent photos from other angles will better tell the tale of its surface features. "We are seeing a physical representation of the beginning of planetary formation, frozen in time". "Just because some bad guys once liked the term, we're not going to let them hijack it".

Its mission now totaling $800 million, the baby grand piano-sized New Horizons will keep hurtling toward the edge of the solar system, observing Kuiper Belt Objects, or KBOs, from afar, and taking cosmic particle measurements.

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