Published: Thu, January 03, 2019
Sci-tech | By April Francis

NASA says faraway world Ultima Thule shaped like ´snowman´

NASA says faraway world Ultima Thule shaped like ´snowman´

New Horizons will get even more up close and personal with Ultima soon - as soon as tomorrow - with at least one image expected to come in at nearly 200 miles per pixel.

"Ultima Thule" was one of 37 contenders that the New Horizons team selected from 34,000 public suggestions and put to the vote.

NASA shared a graphic showing how an object like Ultima Thule forms: "as a rotating cloud of small, icy bodies started to combine". More data on Ultima Thule is streaming back to NASA at this very moment, so expect additional announcements in the coming days.

This illustration provided by NASA shows the New Horizons spacecraft.

NASA's New Horizons, the spacecraft that sent back pictures of Pluto 3½ years ago, swept past the ancient, mysterious object early on New Year's Day.

Eventually, these two bodies remained, slowly spiralling closer until they touched, forming Ultima Thule. "Studying Ultima Thule is helping us understand how planets form - both those in our own Solar System and those orbiting other stars in our galaxy".

After the quick flyby, New Horizons will continue on through the Kuiper Belt with other planned observations of more objects - but the mission scientists said this is the highlight.

New Horizons is named after the New Horizon space probe, and premiered on NASA TV on New Years Day, to coincide with the probe passing Ultima Thule in the Kuiper Belt, an object located a billion miles beyond Pluto, and the most distant rock ever to be visited by the human race.

"We should think of New Horizons as a time machine, a wayback machine to time zero", Moore said.

The main priorities for the research is mapping Ultima Thule's surface, as well as looking for any potential moons and rings.

Mission organizers have been criticized for calling the object by a name that Nazis used for the mythical birthplace of the Aryan race. "It's a snowman!" lead scientist Alan Stern informed the world from Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, home to Mission Control in Laurel.

During his science presentation, Stern also referred to the two lobes of the space rock as "Ultima" (the larger lobe) and "Thule" (the smaller one). The new images revealed that the object is in fact a contact binary, consisting of two spheres that measure 31 km (19 mi) from end to end.

The less-red areas near 2014 MU69's neck - the connection point between the two lobes - carries a higher albedo or reflectivity than the rest of the so-far-observed rockey world, indicating the presence of fine grain particles in the neck region.

They said it the image showed "the first contact binary ever explored by spacecraft". "What we're saying is that the lighting geometry on approach with the Sun behind the spacecraft's back makes it hard to see whether the features on the surface are craters are not".

Additional information will be released at 14:00 EST (1900 UTC) Thursday, 3 January 2019 by the New Horizons team.

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