NASA releases New Horizons' first clear image of 'snowman' Ultima Thule

05 January, 2019, 06:43 | Author: Sidney Guerrero
  • Ultima Thule

Detailed images beamed back from the New Horizons spacecraft showed that Ultima Thule, which lies some 6.5 billion kilometers (4 billion miles) away from Earth, being composed of two spheres, or "lobes".

NASA has released the first high-definition images of Ultima Thule, the most distant object in our solar system ever explored.

New images of what looks like an upside-down two-ball snowman floating in space (taken from as close as 17,000 miles on approach) is actually a "contact binary"-two stars whose components are so close they touch or merge".

"Just like with Pluto, we could not be happier", Alan Stern, the principal investigator for New Horizons, said, recalling the spacecraft's 2015 flyby of that world.

Despite that primitive appearance - if not because of it - they said the object nicknamed Ultima Thule could offer profound new insight into how the planets formed more than 4½ billion years ago.

Scientists believe that around 4.5 billion years ago, just millions of years after the formation of the solar system, dust and pebbles clumped together to form the object's two lobes - Ultima and Thule. It also comes with a visual that tells the story of the Ultima Thule project.

So far, scientists have learned that Ultima is red, with a rotational period of roughly 15 hours.

"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.

That means that Ultima Thule is likely an object that dates back to the formation of the solar system, as scientists suspects prior to the flyby.

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"I think we should think of New Horizons as a time machine, a way-back machine set to time zero, that's brought us back to the very beginning of solar system history to the place where we can observe the most primordial building blocks of the planets".

Based on fuzzy images obtained earlier, the scientists had said that Ultima Thule resembled a bowling pin.

Ultima Thule has a mottled appearance the color of boring brick.

Ultima Thule may be only 20 miles long and shaped like a dog bone, with a possible small moon attached.

As the new year arrived here on Earth, the team at NASA began receiving the first data from the New Horizons spacecraft confirming it had reached a mysterious object on the outer edge of our solar system.

Jeff Moore, a New Horizons co-investigator from Nasa's Ames Research Centre, said the pair would have come together at very low speed, at maybe 2-3km/h. Scientists say no impact craters could be seen in the latest photos.

It consists of two nearly spherical lobes, one with about three times the volume of the other.

He added: "It is going to revolutionise our knowledge of planetary science". For now, researchers have plenty of Ultima Thule data to decipher.

Clearer images and more confident assessments of Ultima Thule's surface composition and topography are expected in the immediate days ahead.

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