NASA New Horizons image shows weird Ultima Thule looks like a snowman

Listen to New Horizons, Brian May's first solo single in 20 years

Listen to New Horizons, Brian May's first solo single in 20 years

To Earthlings, it looks like a snowman.

The longevity of New Horizon's plutonium battery may even allow it to record its exit from the Solar System. The spacecraft "has brought us back to the very beginning of solar system history".

It will take almost two years for New Horizons to beam back all of its observations of Ultima Thule. Kuiper belt objects "are the first planetesimals", he said. New Horizons is so far away it can only send data at about 2,000 bits per second, so it took time to get the new, higher-quality images. NASA hopes it will help to illuminate how planets were created four and a half billion years ago, both in our solar system and beyond.

The mutual gravity of Ultima Thule's lobes appears to be holding the pair together, and scientists theorise that smaller objects have settled in the valley, or "neck", where the lobes meet, giving a brighter appearance.

Check it out below, followed by a photo of the Queen guitarist with Alan Stern, the principal New Horizons mission investigator who personally requested May's musical talents.

He said he thought it would be hard because he couldn't "think of anything that rhymes with Ultima Thule". The object may also be a close contact binary asteroid, with a close satellite.

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

It's called Ultima Thule and it lies about a billion miles beyond Pluto. Based on early images it looked like a bowling pin but a new consensus emerged with new images. About thirty minutes after the probe conducted its flyby of Ultima Thule (2014 MU69), the mission controllers were treated to the first clear images ever taken of a KBO.

Today's imagery, derived from data sent back to Earth on the previous day, literally casts a whole new light on the 19-mile-long object - which is known by its official designation, 2014 MU69, or by the nickname given by the New Horizons team, Ultima Thule ("Ul-ti-ma Too-lay"). Mutual gravitational attraction keeps them married despite their gentle, 15-hour rotation.

The two objects came together at an "extremely slow speed", according to mission geology manager Jeff Moore. "If you had a collision with another auto at those speeds, you may not even bother to fill out the insurance forms", he said.

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. "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.

The new images - taken from as close as 17,000 miles (about 27,000 kilometers) on approach - revealed Ultima Thule as a "contact binary", consisting of two connected spheres, said NASA.

The New Horizons probe, about the size of a piano, has been flying through space for more than a dozen years and provided the first-ever close-up of Pluto in 2015.

Scientists won't know what substances cover its surface until they process more data that was expected to arrive on Earth on Wednesday, but they speculated it could be methane, nitrogen or other organic material.

The Kuiper Belt is the edge of our solar system, part of the original disk from which the sun and planets formed.

Notícias recomendadas

We are pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news.
Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper.
Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.