Ultima Thule Looks Like a Snowman in First New Horizons Images

Christopher Davidson
January 4, 2019

In an animation created by NASA using three of the images we can see the oblong shape of Ultima Thule, which NASA describes as looking like a bowling pin. "There's plenty of time to find other targets if we're in a position to having a still-healthy spacecraft, an accepted proposal, and our search is successful", Stern said. "This is exactly what we need to move the modeling work on planetary formation forward". Now, May has combined both of his loves on "New Horizons", his first solo song in more than two decades.

Still, he said, when all the data comes in, "there are going to be mysteries of Ultima Thule that we can't figure out".

"It's two completely separate objects that are now joined together", says Stern, who explained that the larger lobe is now being referred to as "Ultima" and the smaller one is called "Thule".

'These are the only remaining basic building blocks in the back yard of the solar system that we can see that everything else that we live on, or receive through our telescopes, or visit with our spacecraft, were formed from.

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New Horizons performed the farthest flyby in history at 12:33 a.m. EST (0533 GMT) on New Year's Day, as it approached Ultima Thule within 2,200 miles (about 3,540 km) of the surface at a velocity of 31,500 miles (about 50,694 km) per hour.

"The bowling pin is gone".

Ultima Thule is over 40 times farther from the Sun than Earth; this deep in outer space, temperatures clock in around -400 degrees Fahrenheit-and these frigid, Sun-starved conditions can make for fairly pristine preservation. The first batch that scientists revealed Wednesday was only a taste, but it was a tantalizing one, they said. Here, it's unclear if Ultima is a single, peanut-shaped object or two objects stuck together.

There are no obvious signs Ultima Thule has been significantly disturbed since it came together as the solar system formed, the researchers said. All of the data from the flyby will take 20 entire months to reach the Earth, so we're going to be in for around two years of new discoveries about this unusual, distant world. But unlike those objects, which have encountered more space debris and endured the sun's heat, Ultima Thule is thought to be mostly unchanged since it formed. Kuiper belt objects "are the first planetesimals", he said. "This really puts the nail in the coffin - now we know this is how these kinds of objects in many cases form". The massive area of swirling objects at the edge of the solar system also contains Pluto. It is 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto. The coming weeks will reveal more about the object's composition and terrain. As NASA announced well in advance of the flyby, it's going to take months for the spacecraft to send its trickle of information back to Earth, and sciences will surely be eager to get their hands on it.

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