Science

First close-ups of Ultima Thule reveal it resembles snowman

First close-ups of Ultima Thule reveal it resembles snowman”

Pictures of Ultima Thule have already reached scientists on Earth, and a much clearer picture will develop as data reaches the New Horizons team over the next few days.

Ultima Thule, an icy world 6.4 billion kilometres from the sun, looks like a big snowman.

"Congratulations to NASA's New Horizons team, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and the Southwest Research Institute for making history yet again", said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

When asked about the Nazis' use of the term, Showalter confirmed that he was aware of the usage and said that the New Horizons team and NASA, including its legal department, decided that the original meaning was more prominent and outweighed the less savory connotations.

Researchers believe the spheres were formed from two rotating clouds of smaller chunks of ice and pebbles that coalesced.

The image: The object, which looks a little like a snowman, is what's known as a "contact binary", a body consisting of two connected spheres measuring 19 miles (31 kilometers) in length.

"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", he said.

'These are the only remaining basic building blocks in the back yard of the solar system that we can see that everything else that we live on, or receive through our telescopes, or visit with our spacecraft, were formed from. "This is exactly what we need to move the modeling work on planetary formation forward". Ultima Thule is an object in the icy Kuiper belt.

"They're clearly two objects that have come together", says New Horizons' Deputy Project Scientist Cathy Olkin.

The shape of Ultima Thule had been the subject of speculation for years leading up to the flyby. At left is an enhanced colour image taken by the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC), produced by combining the near infrared, red and blue channels.

The New Horizons team combined a low-resolution color image of 2014 MU69, or Ultima Thule, with sharper black-and-white imagery to produce the composite view at right.

The celestial body was nicknamed Ultima Thule before scientists could say for sure whether it was one object or two.

Clues about the surface composition of Ultima Thule should start rolling in by Thursday. According to Stern, the team has far less than one percent of all the data now onboard New Horizons in hand.

The color photo was then combined with the image taken by the LORRI camera (which has almost five times the spatial resolution of the MVIC) to produce a detailed image that shows the color uniformity of the Ultima and Thule lobes.

"Everything that we're going to tell you [today] is just the tip of the iceberg", Dr Stern said.



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