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

03 January, 2019, 04:13 | Author: Kristi Owen
  • Here's Our First Image Of Ultima Thule, The 'Most Distant Object Ever Visited By A Spacecraft' - Digg

In the early hours of January 1, the New Horizons spacecraft flew by Ultima Thule. With any luck, upcoming projects like the James Webb Space Telescope will further expand our understanding of the universe.

The first image of the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft earlier this week revealed a bowling pin.

The team has nicknamed the larger lobe "Ultima" and the smaller lobe "Thule" - much the same way they gave unofficial names to the regions and features of Pluto and Charon before submitting the names for formal approval to the International Astronomical Union.

The New Horizons spacecraft, which performed a flyby of Pluto in 2015, passed Ultima Thule on New Year's Day.

What will New Horizons show us when it transmits an even more HD image to Earth?

This are only the first images from the probe, captured at a resolution of about 140 meters per pixel.

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the target of the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission, is another example of this kind of object, however that is likely where the resemblance between MU69 and Comet 67P ends. The object is a tiresome red color, and looks friendly enough.

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.


About the size of a city, Ultima Thule has a mottled appearance and is the color of boring brick, probably because of the effects of radiation bombarding the icy surface, with brighter and darker regions. The New Horizons team is already pushing for another flyby in the 2020s while the spacecraft systems are still working.

Color images from New Horizons reveal that, like other Kuiper belt objects, it has a dark reddish hue.

The team determined its colour by combining a sharp black and white image with a less-defined, but coloured, photograph.

But even as the researchers celebrated their triumph of celestial navigation, the mission drew unwanted attention for the name Ultima Thule.

"Eventually, two larger bodies remained & slowly spiralled closer until they touched, forming the bi-lobed object we see today". The craft is equipped with a high-res "long-range reconnaissance imager", which offered the best indication yet of Ultima Thule's size and shape.

So far, no moons or rings have been detected, and there were no obvious impact craters in the latest photos, though there were a few apparent "divots" and suggestions of hills and ridges, scientists said.

The images released so far are "just the tip of the iceberg", Mr Stern said, adding only 1% of data stored on the spacecraft has now been received by scientists. The improved resolution also draws attention to the object's "neck", where the two lobes are connected. Initial images suggested it resembled a bowling pin. The full set of data will be a long time coming - trickling across the solar system over the next 20 months.

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