Detailed images of Ultima Thule resemble a ‘reddish snowman’

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 04 Jan 2019 08:55:30


 

WASHINGTON,


Photos taken by New Horizons earlier had suggested that the two lobes of Ultima Thule are connected by a relatively narrow neck. But the new imagery shows they’re glommed tightly together, dashing earlier analogies. Ultima and Thule were once separate, free-flying objects; they coalesced long ago, just after the solar system’s birth. This union was not violent; the two bodies came together at about walking speed, in a meetup more akin to a spacecraft docking than to a collision.

SCIENTISTS from NASA’s New Horizons mission have released new detailed images of the most distant object ever explored -- the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule. The images beamed back New Horizons after the flyby of Ultima Thule show that the icy ‘worldlet’ resembles a reddish snowman. Photos taken by New Horizons over the previous week or so had suggested that these two lobes are connected by a relatively narrow neck. But the new imagery shows they’re glommed tightly together, dashing earlier analogies.


“That bowling pin is gone,” New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, said during a news conference. “It’s a snowman, if it’s anything at all.”


Ultima and Thule were once separate, free-flying objects; they coalesced long ago, just after the solar system’s birth, mission team members said. This union was not violent; the two bodies came together at about walking speed, in a meetup more akin to a spacecraft docking than to a collision, said Jeff Moore of NASA’s Ames Research Center, the leader of New Horizons’ geology and geophysics team.
Countless objects like Ultima Thule — which is officially known as 2014 MU69 — eventually built up our solar system’s planets. But that didn’t happen with Ultima Thule, which has remained pristine for eons in a cosmic deep-freeze, more than 4 billion miles (6.4 billion km) from the Sun.


The new imagery, dramatic though it may be, is just the tip of the Ultima Thule iceberg. The photos unveiled by the New Horizons team today were taken before closest approach, from distances of about 85,000 miles (137,000 km) and 18,000 miles (28,000 km). The $700 million New Horizons mission launched in January 2006, tasked with performing the first-ever flyby of Pluto. The probe aced this objective in July 2015, showing the dwarf planet to be a world of surprisingly complex and varied landscapes. The Ultima Thule encounter — the most-distant planetary flyby in history — is the centerpiece of New Horizons’ extended mission, which runs through 2021.

The spacecraft has enough power and fuel left to potentially perform a flyby of yet another distant object, if NASA ends up approving another mission extension, Stern said.