NASA shares first close-up images of distant Ultima Thule


The rotation variables here are figured by watching the light curve given by Ultima Thule - it's most certainly a spinning set of buddies. "These are the only remaining building blocks of the planets, scattered in the backyard of the solar system". Though short-period comets (which can also be bilobed) also originate from the Kuiper Belt's pre-planetary dough, comets get jettisoned out of the Belt and flung closer to the Sun-and these heated encounters fundamentally alter their composition. This would indicate that Ultima Thule's either never had a run-in with another space body and/or was broken off of some other larger body of material so recently that no major added damage has yet occurred.

Ultima and Thule date back to the formation of the solar system, said scientists, predicting an age of 4.5 billion years. The members of the science team, who have not had a lot of sleep over the last several days, nicknamed the larger lobe "Ultima" and the smaller one "Thule". This "localized swarm", he says, created two separate orbs, each around 10 miles in diameter. Notice the similarities between the reddish rocks (or other slightly less obvious sort of matter) on Pluto - a big clobbering of the color - and the entirety of Ultima Thule.

In addition to learning its true shape, New Horizons also captured color data when it made its close pass. It resembled something of a pixelated peanut, or a celestial bowling pin.

Stern said the images unveiled Wednesday were just a small taste of the vast amounts of data that New Horizons will transmit in the coming weeks and months.

Jeff Moore, New Horizon's geological and geophysics lead, said Ultima Thule is "perhaps the most primitive object that has yet been seen by any spacecraft". Here, it's unclear if Ultima is a single, peanut-shaped object or two objects stuck together.

New Horizons was launched in 2006 and conducted the historic flyby of Pluto in 2015.

This illustration provided by NASA shows the New Horizons spacecraft.

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The images released so far are "just the tip of the iceberg", Stern said, adding only 1% of data stored on the spacecraft has now been received by scientists. And it comes with a vivid choker of brightness encircling its slight neck.

New Horizon's photographs are not only an achievement in documenting the "the most distant object ever visited by a spacecraft" according to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. Out in the Kuiper Belt, reds may result from the irradiation of ices, but that's far from the only possibility.

The latest images, from the probe's LORRI telescope, were taken on approach to 2014 MU69, 18,000 miles away, 30 minutes before the spacecraft flew by less than 2,200 miles from the object.

These tantalizing tidbits are only the beginning. According to Stern, the team has far less than one percent of all the data now onboard New Horizons in hand.

"Moments like this are what keep me going", Verbiscer says. It's something that, instants before, didn't exist in our minds-now it does.