New Horizons Image Shows Ultima Thule Looks Like A Snowman

Posted: Jan 6 2019, 3:29am CST | by , Updated: Jan 6 2019, 3:52am CST, in Latest Science News


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New Horizons Image Shows Ultima Thule Looks Like a Snowman
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. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

NASA's New Horizons mission released the first close-up images of the most distant object ever explored.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft opened New Year with historic close flyby of a small Kuiper Belt object. One billion miles beyond Pluto and 4 billion miles from Earth, the object named Ultima Thule is the most distant world ever explored by a spacecraft. The first close-up images taken during the spacecraft’s approach showed that the distant object looks like a reddish snowman. It actually consists of two connected spheres and one of them is bigger than the other. Based on early blurred images taken before Jan. 1, scientists said Ultima Thule may have a shape similar to a bowling pin.

“The bowling pin is gone. It's a snowman!" Project's lead scientist Alan Stern from Southwest Research Institute said in a statement.

Researchers have dubbed the bigger sphere Ultima and the smaller one Thule. Thule is estimated to be 9 miles in diameter, while Ultima measures 12 miles wide. Researchers say that the two spheres likely joined billions of years ago and are nearly identical in color. They are a frozen relic dating all the way back to the formation of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago. Ultima Thule could potentially be the most primitive object ever visited by a spacecraft.

“This thing was born somewhere between 99 percent and 99.9 percent of the way back to T-zero (liftoff) in our solar system, really amazing," said Stern. "We've never seen anything like this before.”

Ultima Thule lies in the Kuiper Belt, a vast region at the edge of solar system. It contains many small bodies, all remnants from the early Solar System. Hurtling through space at a speed of 32,000 miles per hour, New Horizons spacecraft reached as close as 2,200 miles of the surface of Ultima Thule. The snowman image was taken 30 minutes before the spacecraft's closest approach early Tuesday, from a distance of about 18,000 miles.

"This flyby is a historic achievement, "said Stern.”Never before has any spacecraft team tracked down such a small body at such high speed so far away in the abyss of space. New Horizons has set a new bar for state-of-the-art spacecraft navigation."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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