Icy Ultima Thule, far beyond Pluto, looks like a snowman

03 January, 2019, 07:29 | Author: Amos Gonzales
  • Here's Our First Image Of Ultima Thule, The 'Most Distant Object Ever Visited By A Spacecraft' - Digg

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.

The longevity of New Horizon's plutonium battery may even allow it to record its exit from the Solar System.

Scientists can also now infer some geological properties of Ultima Thule.

The actual shape of 2014 MU69 (blue) compared to 2017 Earth-based stellar occultation shape estimate (red).

"Reaching Ultima Thule from 4 billion miles away is an incredible achievement". "These are the only remaining basic building blocks".

"Just like with Pluto, we could not be happier", Alan Stern, the principal investigator for New Horizons, said, recalling the spacecraft's 2015 flyby of that world. "There's plenty of time to find other targets if we're in a position to having a still-healthy spacecraft, an accepted proposal, and our search is successful", Stern said.

Mission organizers have been criticized for calling the object by a name that Nazis used for the mythical birthplace of the Aryan race.

Instead, they focused on what the new images told them about planetary science. It is the first contact binary NASA has ever explored. Mutual gravitational attraction keeps them married despite their gentle, 15-hour rotation.

Some 4.5 billion years ago a cloud of frozen pebbles began to join forces, gradually forming two bodies - Ultima and Thule. The lack of evidence for damage at the sight of the collision suggests that the joining was probably gentle, like tapping someone's bumper as you fit into a tight parking space, Moore said.

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This is consistent with other irradiated objects that are in the Kuiper Belt, Carly Howett, mission co-investigator at the Southwest Research Institute, said yesterday. "This is exactly what we need to move the modeling work on planetary formation forward".

But now, clearer images have revealed a snowman.

The images don't yet reveal much information about topography given the sun angle at the time New Horizons took the image, on approach to Ultima Thule at a distance of about 50,000 kilometers.

Before the new picture, the only image scientists had showed a peanut-shaped blur.

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

Ultima Thule is likely similar to some comets and asteroids that scientists have studied as they pass through the inner solar system.

Another factor is that Ultima is small (about 35km in the longest dimension), and this means it doesn't have the type of "geological engine" that in larger objects will rework their composition.

He added that if there was any shock from the Ultima Thule fly-by, it was how fortunate the scientists were for finding it in the Kuiper Belt. The area has hundreds of thousands of objects that could hold the keys to understanding the beginning of our solar system. Kuiper belt objects "are the first planetesimals", he said.


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