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


The New Horizons team has named the individual lobes, calling the smaller one Thule and the larger one Ultima.

"We think what we're looking at is perhaps the most primitive object that has yet been seen by any spacecraft, and may represent a class of objects which are the oldest and most primitive objects that can be seen anywhere in the present solar system", Mr Moore said.
Over time, two larger objects remained and slowly joined together in what scientists called "contact binary".

New Horizons rocketed from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2006. The image on the left is an enhanced color image, the center image is a higher resolution image of the object and the right image shows the color overlaid onto the higher resolution image.

This illustration provided by NASA shows the New Horizons spacecraft.

It's an icy world, 6.4 billion kilometres from the sun, and it looks just like a snowman.

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Data from the New Year's Day flyby will continue to arrive over the next weeks and months, with much higher resolution images yet to come. Unlike the Japanese rovers that performed a wild landing on a moving asteroid last fall, New Horizons is keeping its distance from Ultima Thule to thousands of miles, where it can capture details the size of a basketball court, according to mission scientists.

The team also discovered the region of Ultima Thule corresponding to the snowman's neck is one of its brightest parts, suggesting fine grain material may have rolled there due to steep slopes and gravity.

He said, "In addition to being the first to explore Pluto, today New Horizons flew by the most distant object ever visited by a spacecraft and became the first to directly explore an object that holds remnants from the birth of our solar system".

Scientists have ascertained that the object takes about 15 hours to make a full rotation.

"We could not be happier", New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern said.

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Images also revealed that the two lobes have a mottled appearance.

MU69 appears to have few craters or other signs of violent impact, supporting the idea that the solar system's building blocks formed when friction and gravity gently drew together clouds of dust and gravel-a theory known as pebble accretion. New Horizons's journey into the solar system's past has just begun.

"This thing was born somewhere between 99 percent and 99.9 percent of the way back to T-zero (liftoff) in our solar system, really fantastic", Stern said.

Laurel, Md. - We are getting our first good look at the most distant object ever explored - a piece of rock spinning way out in space. It's not fish or fowl.

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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