Ultima Thule: Clearest image yet of 'snowman' space rock released by NASA

Ultima Thule: Clearest image yet of 'snowman' space rock released by NASA

Ultima Thule: Clearest image yet of 'snowman' space rock released by NASA

The lobes, according to Moore, are really just "resting on each other". "Meet Ultima Thule!" said lead investigator Alan Stern, doing little to hide his joy as he revealed a new sharper image of the cosmic body, taken at a distance as close as 17,000 miles (about 27,000 kilometers) with a resolution of 140 meters per pixel.

Stern noted that the team has received less than 1 percent of all the data stored aboard New Horizons.

It's no simple matter to reach the outer solar system, so NASA is making the most of the opportunity it has with the New Horizons probe. "If you had a collision with another vehicle at those speeds, you may not even bother to fill out the insurance forms", he said. We believe that Ultima Thule, which represents pristine, unchanged icy material from the early days of the solar system, formed when small, icy bodies came together, accreting into larger ones.

It was the first exploration of such a primitive - and distant - planetary object in human history. The massive area of swirling objects at the edge of the solar system also contains Pluto. And different models produce different outcomes.

However, more will be revealed as more data comes in. It is likely an icy fragment that coalesced more than 4.5 billion years ago and that has remained in a deep freeze of the solar system's Kuiper belt ever since, some 4 billion miles from the sun. Studying it could offer insights to how Earth and the other planets formed. Plenty of symbols, like eagles and lighting bolts, have gained secondary, nefarious meanings due to Nazi associations-but "Ultima Thule" was selected despite the secondary meaning still used today by neo-Nazis and members of the alt-right, and at a time where Nazism is on the rise in the United States.

Ultima Thule in colour. The larger lobe is the "bottom" sphere and the smaller lobe is the "upper" sphere.

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

New Horizons, designed by and managed from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, has been speeding toward the edge of the solar system for 13 years.

Pre-flyby observations made by the Hubble Space Telescope indicated that MU69's surface was red in color, and that has proven true - with the reddish hue indicating the presence of tholins, which are processed volatile ices. "We may discover that it doesn't have many craters and we may very well find that most of the surface texture is dominated by the slow accretion processes and not the high-energy impacts that cause craters". "From here out the data will just get better and better!" This image confirms that Ultima Thule (official designation (486958) 2014 MU69) is a "contact binary" object, the first one ever explored up close.

We may never, never reach them.

"That bowling pin is gone - it's a snowman if anything at all", Stern said during a NASA briefing.

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

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