NASA Releases Up-Close Images Of "Snowman"-Shaped Ultima Thule"

03 January, 2019, 04:11 | Author: Patty Aguilar
  • Here's Our First Image Of Ultima Thule, The 'Most Distant Object Ever Visited By A Spacecraft' - Digg

"New Horizons has set a new bar for state-of-the-art spacecraft navigation". With any luck, upcoming projects like the James Webb Space Telescope will further expand our understanding of the universe.

It comes after an unmanned NASA spacecraft sent a signal back to Earth after making a successful fly-by past the space object - the most distant world ever studied by mankind. In total, the object is 31 kilometres from one end to the other, with the larger lobe being around 19 km across, and the smaller lobe about 14 km across.

It kind of resembles the bottom and middle structures of a traditional snowman as one section is about twice the size of the other.

At a news conference Wednesday, scientists working with NASA's New Horizons mission released several images that the spacecraft took as it flew by Tuesday.

What will New Horizons show us when it transmits an even more HD image to Earth? Two black-and-white pictures were released, with a resolution as fine as 140 meters (460 feet) per pixel. NASA then extended the mission to analyse a new target, a Kuiper Belt Object called (486958) 2014 MU69, or MU69 for short. Within just 10 hours, at 10:28 a.m. EST, the spacecraft successfully "phoned home", confirming to NASA scientists that it had survived its close encounter with the distant object. Unlike the Japanese rovers that performed a wild landing on a moving asteroid last fall, New Horizons is keeping its distance from Ultima Thule to thousands of miles, where it can capture details the size of a basketball court, according to mission scientists.

Ultima Thule was once two separate space rocks that joined together, known as a contact binary.


The object is so old and pristine that it's essentially like going back in time to the beginning of our solar system.

"Unfortunately the approach images we're showing you that came down first just aren't conducive to determining whether there are craters on the surface or not", said Mr.

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".

The first image (shown at top), was taken by the spacecraft's Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) at 05:01 UTC (01:01 EDT) on January 1st, 2019. The bowling pin image is "so 2018", joked Stern, who is with the Southwest Research Institute. This is something of a mystery, because Ultima Thule is thought to be made mostly of ice. Another possibility is Ultima could be two objects orbiting each other. "Eventually, 2 larger bodies remained & slowly spiraled closer until they touched, forming the bi-lobed object we see today".

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.

It'll take another 20 months to download all the data from the Ultima flyby.

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