Sunday, 20 January, 2019


NASA New Horizons image shows weird Ultima Thule looks like a snowman

Listen to New Horizons, Brian May's first solo single in 20 years Ultima Thule: Clearest image yet of 'snowman' space rock released by NASA
Kristine Garrett | 04 January, 2019, 21:45

Before that, scientists only had a blurry image of the body and thought it was composed of two more elongated parts - resembling something more like a peanut or bowling pin.

The latest images of Ultima Thule were taken from about 17,000 miles out, showing a formation that end to end measures about 19 miles in length, and has a rotation period of 15 hours, plus or minus an hour.

The mission team has made a decision to call the larger lobe "Ultima" and the smaller lobe "Thule". That means the object is slightly shorter but a bit wider than was believed just yesterday.

"Studying Ultima Thule is helping us understand how planets form, both those in our own solar system and those orbiting other stars in our galaxy", he said.

"Congratulations to NASA's New Horizons team, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and the Southwest Research Institute for making history yet again", said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

Ultima Thule, at 4 billion miles (about 6.4 billion km) from the Sun and 1 billion miles (about 1.6 billion km) from Pluto, will be the most distant object ever directly explored, according to NASA.

Also of interest is the apparent lack of craters, hinting at a surface built through accretion rather than the violent impacts seen in the inner solar system.

The dark object is formed of two spheres which have combined to form one celestial object.

The images are obviously very low in resolution, and it's not immediately clear if or when we'll get a better glimpse of the rock, but New Horizons still has a lot of data to beam back to Earth.

It will take almost two years for New Horizons to beam back all of its observations of Ultima Thule. Over time, these objects likely coalesced, and eventually two of these objects began to spiral close to one another.

The New Horizons probe, about the size of a piano, has been flying through space for more than a dozen years and provided the first-ever close-up of Pluto in 2015.

"Ultima Thule is the first object that will shed light on those earliest conditions".

The sun is 1,900 times fainter on Ultima Thule than it is on a sunny day on Earth.

The only issue with the flyby so far has nothing to do with the spacecraft or the object but rather the Ultima Thule nickname that the mission, with NASA's concurrence, applied to the object.

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

An earlier image of the spinning ball of dust and ice, captured by the spacecraft from about 500,000 kilometres out, was so fuzzy and grainy Dr Stern told those gathered at the press conference it was "OK to laugh". The "neck" between the two lobes is particularly bright, perhaps because small, reflective particles tumbled into its crevasse, said Cathy Olkin, a deputy project scientist and planetary scientist at SwRI.

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