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Ultima Thule Is Shaped Like A 'Snowman,' Detailed Images Show

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Ultima Thule

Scientists from NASA's New Horizons mission on Wednesday released the first detailed images of the most distant object ever explored - the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule.

The New Horizon spacecraft did a close flyby of the most distant object yet visited by any spacecraft on New Year's Day.

Ultima Thule, as the small, icy matter has been entitled was discovered to contain two mingled simultaneously spheres, one three times more extensive than the other enlarging about 21 miles (33 kilometers) in length.

The latest view from NASA's New Horizons probe shows an icy object known as 2014 MU69 or as Ultima Thule to consist of two balls of icy material stuck together. It has a rotation period of about 15 hours.

The dark object is formed of two spheres which have combined to form one celestial object.

Ultima Thule's unique, lumpy appearance was achieved when two chunks of matter collided at extremely slow speed - perhaps even as slow as as two cars nudging together, the team states.

"Congratulations to NASA's New Horizons team, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and the Southwest Research Institute for making history yet again", said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. New Horizons is so far away it can only send data at about 2,000 bits per second, so it took time to get the new, higher-quality images.

Though Ultima Thule formed a long time ago, it remains pristine, seemingly unmarked by craters.

Nasa confirmed Tuesday that the spacecraft - New Horizons - completed its flight past Ultima Thule at 12.33am on January 1, Eastern Time.

Before that flyby, the only image scientists had was a blurry one showing Ultima Thule's oblong shape, resembling something like a bowling pin or a peanut. "New Horizons has set a new bar for state-of-the-art spacecraft navigation".

New Horizons rocketed from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2006.

If confirmed, this configuration could represent a precious snapshot of planetary formation in action, supporting the idea that the massive, orbiting bodies in our inner solar system assembled in part through the rapid coalescing of pebbles and dust. In the next few days and weeks, more details images of Ultima Thule will arrive, providing more insights.

"The term, Ultima Thule, which is very old, many centuries old, possibly a thousand years old, is a wonderful meme for exploration, and that's why we chose it", Stern said.

The "snowman", named Ultima Thule, orbits an area known as the Kuiper Belt.

"I don't think we have stressed enough, so I really want to say, what this spacecraft and this team accomplished is unprecedented.

Stern expressed surprise, and elation, that after picking the mission target "more or less" out of the hat, "that we were able to get as big a victor as this, that is going to revolutionize our knowledge of planetary science".

This is just the beginning of what we will learn about this otherworldly object.

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