New Horizons reveals a 'snowman' at the edge of the solar system

Federico Mansilla
Setiembre 13, 2019

In the early hours of 2019, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew past Ultima Thule, the most distant celestial object ever reached by a manmade device-more than a billion miles past Pluto.

Ultima Thule is a heavenly body mercifully located around 6.5 billion km away from Earth. "The team has dubbed the larger sphere "Ultima" (12 miles/19 kilometers across) and the smaller sphere "Thule" (9 miles/14 kilometers across)".

He added: "These are the only remaining basic building blocks in the backyard of the solar system that we can see that everything else that we live on, or receive through our telescopes, or visit with our spacecraft, were formed from". 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.

In March, NASA and the New Horizons team announced their decision to use Ultima Thule as a nickname for the second stop on their solar system tour, which is officially known as 2014 MU69, a formula that designates when it was discovered.

"In the coming months, New Horizons will transmit dozens of data sets to Earth, and we'll write new chapters in the story of Ultima Thule - and the solar system", said Helene Winters, New Horizons Project Manager.

New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern was proud of what the men and women behind the scenes accomplished.

Taken at the Mission Operations Center of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel Maryland on Jan. 1 2019
New Horizons reveals a 'snowman' at the edge of the solar system

Scientist Jeff Moore of NASA's Ames Research Center said the two spheres formed when small, icy pieces coalesced in space billions of years ago. Kuiper belt objects "are the first planetesimals", he said. This created a snowman-shaped, two-lobed binary object.

Scientists say Ultima Thule is actually two objects stuck together. So far, no moons or rings have been detected, but even better images will yield definitive answers in the days and weeks ahead.

"We have far less than 1 per cent of the data that's stored aboard the solid state recorders on New Horizons, already down on the ground".

NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute and so forth have begun analyzing all aspects of Ultima Thule, including its most basic elements - like its number of hills, ridges, impact craters, etcetera. The lobes, he said, were really only "resting on each other".

Time machine: There's more to Ultima Thula than meets the eye, and the images are just the start.

"I had never heard the term Ultima Thule before we had our naming campaign", Mark Showalter, a planetary astronomer at the SETI Institute and investigator on the New Horizons mission who led the naming process, told me at Newsweek in March.

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