Sharper New Horizons photos reveal Ultima Thule as a reddish space "snowman"

Sharper New Horizons photos reveal Ultima Thule as a reddish space

The team unveiled new images received late in the day yesterday, and it's now clear that Ultima Thule, a distant, icy Kuiper Belt Object lying 4 billion miles away, is a contact binary. Together they form Ultima Thule, a frozen world that is almost 4.5 billion miles from Earth, more distant than Pluto. The small object appeared as a point source in Hubble Space Telescope images, where it was discovered in 2014, and in images from New Horizons itself until a couple days before the flyby. The probe will now study the makeup of Ultima Thule's atmosphere and terrain for further clues about how solar system and planets form. NASA dubbed the larger lobe Ultima, and the other, which is about three times smaller, Thule. And the metaphors write themselves!

"This is what we need to move the models of planetary formation forward", said Alan Stern. "New Horizons has set a new bar for state-of-the-art spacecraft navigation", said Stern.

Those larger specs then continued to clump together until objects greater than 1 kilometer in size formed and began attracting each other with their gravity... and so on to form the larger objects in our solar system today.

"New Horizons is like a time machine, taking us back to the birth of the solar system", Moore said. The new images revealed that the object is in fact a contact binary, consisting of two spheres that measure 31 km (19 mi) from end to end.

Less than 1 percent of all the data gathered by New Horizons during the flyby has been downlinked to Earth.

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The object is so old and pristine that it's essentially like going back in time to the beginning of our solar system.

NASA launched New Horizons in 2006 when Pluto was still considered a planet. "Ultima is telling us about our evolutionary history". Scientists speculated that it could be single, likely elongated object, or two objects closely orbiting each other.

Both spheres are similar in color, while the barely perceptible neck connecting the two lobes is noticeably less red, probably because of particles falling down the steep slopes into that area. "It's fantastic, and the whole trip with New Horizons is such a privilege for me".

The Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager, or LORRI, had "28,000 pixels on the target ... which way beats six pixels", Stern joked referring to the fuzzy, bowling-pin picture that was released the day before. "From here out the data will just get better and better!"

Instead, the first images beamed down from the spacecraft show it resembles a snowman - or even the BB-8 droid robot from the "Star Wars" film series. "What we're saying is that the lighting geometry on approach with the Sun behind the spacecraft's back makes it hard to see whether the features on the surface are craters are not". But it's a bummer that the New Horizons team is doubling down on the name, despite already knowing about its nefarious second meaning.

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