Science

New Horizons final Ultima Thule images reveal true shape

New Horizons final Ultima Thule images reveal true shape”

The most distant world ever visited by humanity has left scientists puzzled after Nasa's New Horizons spacecraft craft offered a departing view of a space rock nicknamed "Ultima Thule". Objects like Ultima Thule represent an even earlier stage in that process, frozen in time for billions of years.

The latest images were taken almost 10 minutes after New Horizons crossed its closest approach point, which were the final views New Horizons captured of Ultima Thule, said a NASA release on Friday.

NASA's NewHorizons flew past Ultima Thule, an object located in a region of primordial objects 1 billion miles past Pluto.

Instead, the bigger lobe (called Ultima) is more of a flat circle like a pancake.

The larger lobe, nicknamed "Ultima", more closely resembles a giant pancake, and the smaller lobe, nicknamed "Thule", is shaped like a dented walnut, according to the mission team. Stern added that the discovery of its true shape is "creating scientific puzzles about how such an object could even be formed". We've never seen something like this orbiting the Sun.

The images were taken specifically when New Horizons was 5,494 miles (8,862 kilometers) beyond Ultima Thule, and 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) from Earth.

Mission scientists created this "departure movie" from 14 different images taken by the New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) shortly after the spacecraft flew past the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule (officially named 2014 MU69) on January 1, 2019.

"Enlarge / The "old" view of Ultima Thule is on top". The photos were taken almost 10 minutes after the probe passed its closest point to the rock.

"This really is an incredible image sequence, taken by a spacecraft exploring a small world 4bn miles away from Earth", said the mission's principal investigator, Alan Stern.

What initially looked like an upside-down two-ball anthropomorphic snow sculpture floating in space is actually a "contact binary": two stars whose components are so close they touch or merge.

"The first close-up images of Ultima Thule - with its two distinct and, apparently, spherical segments - had observers calling it a "snowman, '" the government space agency said".

It's hard to see in the video, but scientists have been able to work out more about the object's shape by looking at the way that it blocks out the stars behind it as it passes by.

'Nothing quite like this has ever been captured in imagery'. The flyby gave scientists the opportunity to collect photos and information about the rock that they hope will help solve some longstanding mysteries about the solar system's 4.5 billion years of history.

Another member of the NASA team, Hal Weaver, said that with these new findings, the academic community will undoubtedly be motivated by new theories of planetesimal formation in the early solar system, with more images soon to be returned from New Horizons.

While the newly released images are the final ones New Horizons snapped of Ultima, they're far from the last pieces of data we'll see from the probe.



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