NASA’s New Horizons Shows Image of Snowman-Like Object

NASA’s New Horizons Shows Image of Snowman-Like Object

At this resolution, each pixel of the image is 140 meters on a side.

An earlier image of the spinning ball of dust and ice, captured by the spacecraft from about 500,000 kilometres out, was so fuzzy and grainy Dr Stern told those gathered at the press conference it was "OK to laugh".

"The spacecraft is in peak health", said Stern.

While you'd think something named "Ultima Thule" would be a challenger to Thanos for galactic superiority in Avengers 4: Endgame, or doing drag, the name fittingly means "beyond the borders of the known world".

"[Ultima's] only really the size of something like Washington DC, and it's about as reflective as garden variety dirt, and it's illuminated by a Sun that's 1900 times fainter than it is outside on a sunny day here on the Earth".

"We were basically chasing it down in the dark at 32,000 miles per hour". By combining images taken by multiple instruments we get a good idea of Ultima Thule's color. Mission scientists are working on additional funding.

The images we have of the object now show no obvious impact craters, but there are hills and ridges.

The New Horizons team has also been able to determine a rough calculation for 2014 MU69's rotation period at 15 hours +/- 1 hour, meaning that more than half of the object was in daylight as New Horizons passed and was therefore observed.

Instead, the first images beamed down from the spacecraft show it resembles a snowman - or even the BB-8 droid robot from the "Star Wars" film series. "In the coming months, New Horizons will transmit dozens of data sets to Earth, and we'll write new chapters in the story of Ultima Thule - and the solar system", she said. Then the balls would have been gently drawn together by their mutual gravitational attraction, he said.

The object is composed of two distinct lobes in contact with each other, with a 3-1 ratio in terms of their respective size.

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Moore said "we're basically looking at the first planetesimals", which served as building blocks for what would eventually become planets.

Carly Howett, New Horizons co-investigator, said: "We can definitively say that Ultima Thule is red".

"New Horizons is like a time machine, taking us back to the birth of the solar system", he added.

The neck area is also sloped enough that objects and fine grain elements can tumble or roll down the slopes and settle in the valley where the two lobes meet - something which likely explains the higher albedo seen in the data thus far returned from New Horizons. At the time, and again today, New Horizons personnel defended the choice, citing its original connotations.

About the size of a city, Ultima Thule has a mottled appearance and is the color of tiresome brick, probably because of the effects of radiation bombarding the icy surface, with brighter and darker regions.

In response to a reporter's question, Stern addressed the controversy head-on.

Jeff Moore leads the New Horizons' geology team.

NASA launched New Horizons in 2006 when Pluto was still considered a planet.

The hope is that the course of the spacecraft can be altered slightly to visit at least one more Kuiper belt object sometime in the next decade.

What's so special about the Kuiper belt?

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