The odd world of NASA spacecraft target 'Ultima Thule'

The odd world of NASA spacecraft target 'Ultima Thule'

NASA has released the first high-definition images of Ultima Thule, the most distant object in our solar system ever explored.

The world is in a region of the Solar System known as the Kuiper belt.

"It's a snowman", mission principal investigator Alan Stern, a planetary scientist from the Southwest Research Institute, said during a news briefing here at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory. NASA's New Horizons mission flew by the object early on January 1, and the maneuver's science data will reach Earth over the course of almost two months.

The shape of Ultima Thule had been the subject of speculation for years leading up to the flyby.

When asked about the Nazis' use of the term, Showalter confirmed that he was aware of the usage and said that the New Horizons team and NASA, including its legal department, decided that the original meaning was more prominent and outweighed the less savory connotations. We'll continue to learn much more about the object's geology in the coming hours and days. "This is exactly what we need to move the modeling work on planetary formation forward". As such, scientists still aren't entirely sure how the planets of the Solar System got their start.

The new imagery shows the pockmarked space rock measures about 33km (20 miles) in length, seen from distances ranging between 137,000km and 28,000km (85,000 miles and 17,400 miles). Before that, scientists only had a blurry image of the body and thought it was composed of two more elongated parts - resembling something more like a peanut or bowling pin. That created the two bodies seen at Ultima Thule: a larger one, dubbed simply "Ultima", that is 19 kilometers across, and a smaller one, "Thule", 14 kilometers across. The probe will now study the makeup of Ultima Thule's atmosphere and terrain for further clues about how solar system and planets form.

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About the size of a city, Ultima Thule has a mottled appearance the color of tiresome brick, with brighter and darker regions. Still, he said, when all the data comes in, "there are going to be mysteries of Ultima Thule that we can't figure out".

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May went on to explain how the New Horizons mission directly inspired his new solo track.

The first color images, taken at lower resolution, show that Ultima Thule has a red color.

An earlier image of the spinning ball of dust and ice, captured by the spacecraft from about 500,000 kilometres out, was so fuzzy and grainy Dr Stern told those gathered at the press conference it was "OK to laugh".

The New Horizons spacecraft on Tuesday flew past Ultima Thule, which was discovered via telescope in 2014 and is the farthest and potentially oldest cosmic body ever observed by a spacecraft.

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. "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.

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