Tuesday , January 19 2021

NASA New Horizons Ultima Thule Snowman



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

The first picture of the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule taken by NASA's New Horizon spacecraft earlier this week revealed a bowling rod.

But now clearer images have revealed a snowman.

Mission scientists said the first science data sent back from New Horizons has shown that Ultima Thule is actually two separate objects that are joined, making it the first contact binary explored by a spacecraft.

The object has two lobes, with the largest being now called Ultima and the smaller is Thule.

New Horizon's spacecraft, which carried out an aircraft city of Pluto in 2015, consisted of Ultima Thule on New Year's Day.

This flyby is the first exploration of a small Kuiper Belt object close by – and it's the most primitive world ever observed by a spacecraft.

The object is so old and untouched that it really is like going back in time to the start of our solar system.

The Kuiper Belt is the edge of our solar system, part of the original disk, from which the sun and planets are formed.

The new color image also revealed that it was finally red, like the top of Pluto's moon Charon.

This is consistent with other irradiated objects found in Kuiper Belt, Carly Howett, mission co-investigator at the Southwest Research Institute, said yesterday.

Images also revealed that the two fleas have a nice appearance.

Ultima Thule in color.
Ultima Thule in color. (NASA via AP)

Although they do not seem to have impact craters, there may be hills and ridges where the necks connect the two lobes, which are one of the steepest slopes.

But more will be revealed as more data comes in.

These first data is a result of New Horizons approaching Ultima Thule with the sun behind the spacecraft, making it difficult to see if there are craters.

So how did Ultima Thule form? Mission scientists believe that 4.5 billion years ago, a rotating cloud of tiny, icy bodies is mixed together.

New Horizon's lead researcher Alan Stern (center) of the Southwest Research Institute celebrates the breakthrough with other mission team members.
New Horizon's lead researcher Alan Stern (center) of the Southwest Research Institute celebrates the breakthrough with other mission team members. (NASA via AP)

Eventually, these two organs remained slowly spiraling closer until they touched forming the Ultima Thule. Gravity holds them together.

This means that we really see one of the first planetary decimal places, or objects that continued to form planets.

"It's a time machine on time zero," said Jeff Moore, mission's geophysical leading investigator from NASA Ames.

A 15-hour rotation speed has also been established for Ultima Thule.

The object itself is as dark as potting soil, says Cathy Olkin, deputy researcher of the Southwest Research Institute.

The clearest areas on the surface of Ultima Thule reflect only approx. 13% of the sunlight reaches it – an incredibly small amount, as it is 6.4 billion miles from the sun.

All of this information comes from "far less than 1% of data on New Horizons that have reached the ground," said Alan Stern, mission's main researcher at the Southwest Research Institute.

Ultima Thule is a celestial body made up of two balls.
Ultima Thule is a celestial body made up of two balls. (NASA via AP)

Stereo analysis and subsequent imaging will soon be available.

New horizons flew three times closer to Ultima than it did to Pluto, which is within 3540 kilometers and gives a better look at the surface.

After the fast flight, New Horizons continues through the Kuiper Belt with other planned observations of several objects – but the missionaries said this is the highlight.

© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2019


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