Ultima Thule looks like a snowman


The mission team named the larger object "Ultima" and the smaller one "Thule".

"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".

A NASA spacecraft travelling through space sent back pictures of the most distant object explored by mankind on Wednesday. The massive area of swirling objects at the edge of the solar system also contains Pluto.

As a preserved relic from that original time, Ultima Thule also promises to shed light on the so-called Kuiper Belt, or Twilight Zone, in which hundreds of thousands of objects reside well beyond Neptune. 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. "It's a snowman if it's anything at all", Stern said amid laughter from the gathered media.

"This is the first object that we can clearly tell was born this way" Stern said, instead of evolving as a sort of "bi-lobe".

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The images we have of the object now show no obvious impact craters, but there are hills and ridges.

However, more will be revealed as more data comes in. According to Stern, the team has far less than one percent of all the data now onboard New Horizons in hand.

Objects like Ultima Thule, on the other hand, remain in the icy outer crust of our disc-like solar system.

Jeff Moore, a New Horizons co-investigator from NASA's Ames Research Center, said the pair would have come together at very low speed, at maybe 2-3km/h.

In 2006, an fantastic spacecraft was launched towards the dwarf planet Pluto, known as New Horizons.

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While most of us were popping the corks on bottles of champagne, NASA engineers were holding their breath as they watched the calendar flip to 2019 on the East Coast. "What we're looking at is basically the first planetesimals", Moore said.

"It's actually gratifying to see these nearly perfectly formed contact binaries in their native habitats", said Jeffrey M. Moore, leader of the mission's geology and geophysics team. It has a rotation period of about 15 hours.

SwRI's Cathy Olkin, one of the mission's deputy project scientists, said the red color could well be due to organic chemicals known as tholins that are coating the surface. The smaller sphere is "Thule", measuring 14 kilometres across.

New Horizons Principal Investigator, Alan Stern said, "Let me say that bowling pin is gone". Here, it's unclear if Ultima is a single, peanut-shaped object or two objects stuck together.

Stereo analysis and subsequent imaging will be available soon.

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New Horizons spent 13 years travelling to Ultima Thule's location at the heart of the Kuiper Belt.