New Image Of Ultima Thule Shows Object's Pancake-Like Shape

New Image Of Ultima Thule Shows Object's Pancake-Like Shape

Fascinating fresh images have been taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft showing a view of Kuiper Belt object (KBO) - MU69, which goes by the nickname Ultima Thule.

The new images were taken at approximately 12:42 a.m. EST (05:42 GMT) Jan. 1, 2019, approximately 10 minutes after closest approach from a position 5,494 miles (8,862 kilometers) past Ultima Thule and an incredible 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) from Earth.

However, after images of the flying and spinning object were received, Ultima Thule has turned out to be different from the way it had been originally described at first glance. The movie clearly reveals that neither of Ultima Thule's lobes is spherical, in part because the departure photos outline of parts of the KBO that block out background stars in spite of being in shadow.

A flat, pancake-like asteroid has never been seen before in our solar system, creating another mystery around Ultima Thule for scientists to solve.

Now that scientists have downloaded more data from the distant spacecraft, however, our view of Ultima Thule has changed. Most asteroids are at least vaguely spherical, but according to the new data, the asteroid is "like a pancake", as lead scientist Alan Stern said in a press release. But as more data were analyzed, including several highly evocative crescent images taken almost 10 minutes after closest approach, a "new view" of the object's shape emerged.

The NASA craft first captured images of the dual-lobed space rock, located more than a billion miles from Pluto, when it reached it on New Year's day. "Nothing quite like this has ever been captured in imagery".

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To help bolster the calculation of the shape, the research team observed the background stars in the series of images and noted when they "blinked out", giving an indication of what shapes the two lobes were.

That model seems to indicate that Ultima Thule is strangely flat. Scientifically, the mysterious object Ultima Thule is known as 2014 MU69.

Project scientist Hal Weaver of Johns Hopkins University, home to New Horizons flight control center, said the finding should spark new theories on how such primitive objects formed early in the solar system.

Scientists found the object's larger lobe is shaped like a fluffy pancake, while the smaller of the two lobes recalls a "dented walnut".

As the world rang in the beginning of 2019 on 1 January, researchers at NASA were keeping an eye on the New Horizons spacecraft for what would prove to be a defining moment in its multi-year mission.

The images also give an insight into the difficulties faced by the team in getting enough light into probe's cameras this far out.

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