Icy object past Pluto looks like reddish snowman

05 January, 2019, 06:44 | Author: Ann Santiago
  • Listen to New Horizons, Brian May's first solo single in 20 years

At about four billion miles from Earth in the Kuiper Belt, spacecraft New Horizons captured the never seen before close-up images of Ultima Thule, an icy celestial object about 20 miles long.

Ultima Thule appears in an image taken by the New Horizons spacecraft on Jan.1, 2019, from a range of 18,000 miles.

The "snowman" shape indicates that Ultima Thule is a "contact binary" - the object's shape is the result of two spherical rocks fusing together in the early days of the solar system.

After successfully completing its Pluto flyby in 2015, the agency redirected the spacecraft to visit an even more distant object known as Ultima Thule. The larger sphere, which the team has now dubbed "Ultima", is 12 miles (19 km) wide, while the smaller one, "Thule", measures 9 miles (14.5 km) across.

Ultima Thule is likely similar to some comets and asteroids that scientists have studied as they pass through the inner solar system.

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Several factors make Ultima Thule, and the domain in which it moves, so interesting to scientists. "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.

Light travel time back to the Earth was expected to be some six hours as we await the images that will hopefully be coming in from this distant remnant of the creation of the solar system!

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

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.

The reddish snowman picture was taken a half-hour before the spacecraft's closest approach early Tuesday, from a distance of about 18,000 miles (28,000 kilometers).

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Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons, said: 'It is only really the size of something like Washington DC and it is about as reflective as garden variety dirt.

The first sharp picture of the "city-sized world" the New Horizons probe travelled 6.5 billion kilometres to explore has been unveiled, to the delight of NASA. They named the larger region Ultima and the smaller one Thule.

It consists of two nearly spherical lobes, one with about three times the volume of the other. "This is exactly what we need to move the modeling work on planetary formation forward". It is going to revolutionise our knowledge of planetary science'.

Scientists said there were no obvious impact craters in the latest photos but a few apparent "divots" and suggestions of hills and ridges.

Time machine: There's more to Ultima Thula than meets the eye, and the images are just the start.

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Carly Howett, another researcher of the mission, noted that "we can definitely say that Ultima Thule is red", perhaps due to irradiation of ice.

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