Published: Thu, January 03, 2019
Life&Culture | By Peggy Hughes

NASA says faraway world Ultima Thule shaped like ´snowman´

NASA says faraway world Ultima Thule shaped like ´snowman´

Unlike comets and other objects that have been altered by the sun over time, Ultima Thule is in its pure, original state: It's been in the deep-freeze Kuiper Belt on the fringes of our solar system from the beginning.

After New Horizons has had a chance to get closer to the object, to determine more about its characteristics, NASA scientists will decide on a permanent name.

Another camera captured a color view, revealing that Ultima is definitely red, said Carly Howett, a New Horizons science team member from the Southwest Research Institute. "New Horizons has set a new bar for state-of-the-art spacecraft navigation".

It comes after an unmanned NASA spacecraft sent a signal back to Earth after making a successful fly-by past the space object - the most distant world ever studied by mankind. New Horizons got up close and personal with this frozen chunk of rock on January 1st, but New Horizons has only just beamed back high-resolution images.

Following its historic visit to Pluto, New Horizons has spent the past four years heading to a distant place only discovered in 2014: Ultima Thule.

The first sharp picture of the "city-sized world" the New Horizons probe travelled 6.5 billion kilometres to explore has been unveiled, to the delight of NASA.

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.

The body is roughly 19 miles long and completes its own rotation in about 15 hours.

Despite the slender connection point, the two lobes are "soundly bound" together, according to Moore.

In the coming weeks and months, data from the New Horizons' flyby will continue to be received by the mission controllers.

The two-lobed object is what is known as a "contact binary". Tholins are also behind the reddish color in a crater on the surface of Pluto's biggest moon, Charon, but scientists say the process behind its deposition on Ultima is likely to be different.

Scientists consider Ultima Thule an exquisite time machine that should provide clues to the origins of our solar system.

Scientists are keen to study Ultima Thule as it lives in a region that has been relatively untouched since the formation of the solar system, which in turn helps them better understand planetary formation.

"This mission has always been about delayed gratification", Stern said on Tuesday. In 2015, the spacecraft passed Pluto, providing the first images of a world once considered our ninth planet. He added: "We've never seen anything like this before. I would say that just because some bad guys once liked that term, we're not going to let them hijack it".

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