New Horizons Probe Reveals Snowman-Shaped Ultima Thule

Christopher Davidson
January 3, 2019

In fact, it takes more than six hours for radio signals carrying information from New Horizons to deliver the data to NASA's Deep Space Network.

There isn't a giant solar carrot nose or space coal buttons or anything like that, but it definitely looks a bit like a snowman. However, seeing as the exploratory spacecraft is about four billion miles (6.6 billion km) from our home planet, this data takes a while to travel back to Earth.

New Horizons is named after the New Horizon space probe, and premiered on NASA TV on New Years Day, to coincide with the probe passing Ultima Thule in the Kuiper Belt, an object located a billion miles beyond Pluto, and the most distant rock ever to be visited by the human race.

The close approach came a half-hour into the new year, and three years after New Horizons' unprecedented swing past Pluto.

At 10:28 am EST today, New Horizons made its pre-programmed "phone home", letting the mission team back on Earth know that the craft completed the flyby unharmed.

One of the reasons the area is of such interest to scientists is because of its super low temperatures (it's actually way too cold for snowman building), which has resulted in a preservation that could answer questions about how things came to be.

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"This flyby is a historic achievement", Alan Stern, New Horizons Principal Investigator said. New Horizons has been releasing blurry photos of the object and has detected some weirdness about it, as we've reported-there didn't seem to be any variation in the amount of light it reflected.

Scientists are keen to study Ultima Thule as it lives in a region that has been relatively untouched since the formation of the solar system, which in turn helps them better understand planetary formation.

Among the images the scientists are hoping to receive are "higher resolution views" and pictures taken when the sun is at a better angle for viewing Ultima Thule.

"#UltimaThule used to be two separate objects".

In 2015, the spacecraft passed Pluto, providing the first images of a world once considered our ninth planet. So, prepared to be wowed by higher-resolution photos in the coming days and weeks.

What is perhaps most exciting about the final confirmation that 2014 MU69 is a contact binary is that it begins to solidify models of solar system formation and planetary accretion. This explains why, in earlier images taken before Ultima was resolved, its brightness didn't appear to vary as it rotated.

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