NASA spacecraft sends images of icy object past Pluto
NASA spacecraft sends images of icy object past Pluto
The body is roughly 19 miles long and completes its own rotation in about 15 hours
03 January, 2019, 04:10
NASA's New Horizons mission flew by the object early on January 1, and the maneuver's science data will reach Earth over the course of almost two months. With any luck, upcoming projects like the James Webb Space Telescope will further expand our understanding of the universe.
The scientists now say with confidence that Ultima Thule long ago was two bodies that got stuck together, what they call a "contact binary".
The last time we saw Utlima Thule, it was a blur against the blackness of space, something not almost convincing enough of its existence.
"I've said it a number of times, I think New Horizons is an example - one of the best examples in our time - of raw exploration, and the term Ultima Thule, which is very old, many centuries old, possibly over a thousand years old, is a wonderful meme for exploration", Stern said.
The flyby took place about a billion miles beyond Pluto, which was until now the most faraway world ever visited up close by a spacecraft. Two black-and-white pictures were released, with a resolution as fine as 140 meters (460 feet) per pixel.
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the target of the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission, is another example of this kind of object, however that is likely where the resemblance between MU69 and Comet 67P ends. The left image is color-enhanced. "In the coming months, New Horizons will transmit dozens of data sets to Earth, and we'll write new chapters in the story of Ultima Thule - and the solar system", she said. At right, the colour has been overlaid onto the LORRI image to show the colour uniformity of the Ultima and Thule lobes. While Earth anxiously sucks in a deep breath of anticipation, scientists have finally determined the color of Ultima Thule.
The colour variation shows just how dark the object is with the brightest areas reflecting just 13 per cent of the light falling on them. It zoomed past Pluto - collecting numerous photos and reams of information about the now dwarf planet - in July 2015, and reached Ultima Thule early on New Year's Day. Over time, dust and pebbles clumped together to form the object's two lobes, which eventually combined to form a single body.
The object looked sort of looked like a fuzzy bowling pin.
So how did Ultima Thule form? The rock had no obvious impact craters. "What you're seeing is the first contact binary ever explored by a spacecraft", Stern said today at a press conference here at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
The dark object is formed of two spheres which have combined to form one celestial object.
After New Horizons has had a chance to get closer to the object, to determine more about its characteristics, NASA scientists will decide on a permanent name.
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