Thursday , January 21 2021

New Horizon's probe discovers that Ultima Thule has a double identity



This image was released by NASA on January 2, 2019, depicting images with separate color and detail information and a composite image of both showing Ultima Thule, about 1 billion miles beyond Pluto.

Associated Press

Scientists have had their first good look at the remote solar system object called Ultima Thule and have realized that they look double. Ultima Thule turns out to be a pair of rounded bodies that are gently pushed together to resemble a flying interplanetary snowman.

Images snapped by NASA's New Horizons probe on Tuesday and released on Wednesday show that the largest of the spherical components making up the Ultima Thule is about three times smaller.

"You can see that there are clearly two separate objects assembled," said deputy researcher Cathy Olkin during a press release at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. "This form informs our models of planetary formation."

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The new view suggests that Ultima Thule is all that the scientists hoped for – a brief snapshot of the process that once led to the birth of the planets, where small bodies called planet planes together to build larger ones.

With data continuing to flow in from the spacecraft on Wednesday, team members said they expect the results to improve their understanding of how the solar system originates.

New horizons left the earth almost 13 years ago and became the first spacecraft to provide closeup images of Pluto in 2015. It then spent three and a half years at Ultima Thule, which is 1.5 billion miles beyond Pluto's circulation in a region known as Kuiper Belt.

Traveling at more than 51,000 miles per hour, New Horizons skirts Ultima Thule early Tuesday morning with cameras and instruments recording footage whatever they found. Ten hours later, the raw data from the fleeting meeting began to come via radio link from the fast-moving spacecraft and team members spent the next 24 hours collecting images and debating the consequences of what they saw.

Even now with only 1 percent of the data from the meeting already in hand and the best images still to come, the researchers said they are convinced that Ultima Thule has changed slightly since it emerged from the vortex of dust and gas that surrounded infant Sun about 4.5 billion years ago.

"We think what we are looking at is perhaps the most primitive object not yet seen by any spacecraft," said Timothy Moore, a science team member with NASA's Ames Research Center in California.

Dr. Moore noted that Ultima Thule's shape supports a perception of plant formation, where small pieces, ranging in size from pebbles to rocks, accumulate to form spherical objects about 10 kilometers across. The two parts of Ultima Thule match this description and both seem a little splintered – a possible hint that each one consists of smaller pieces fused together.

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A color image shows that the object is reddish, indicating that its surface contains carbon-bearing molecules such as methane and carbon monoxide in frozen form. Typically, after billions of years of exposure to cosmic radiation, such a surface will become reddish brown, as the carbon atoms react chemically and are associated with longer tar-like compounds.

Equally striking is the apparent lack of craters, a result consistent with a study published last week, suggesting that the Kuiper belt is relatively free of small pieces of dirt that have thoroughly scarred many asteroids and moons that is closer to the sun. And because objects in the region are supposed to travel at low speeds relative to each other, even the craters that are formed are expected to resemble light snow cover.

Brett Gladman, an astronomer at the University of British Columbia and co-author of the crater study, said that as sharper images are retrieved from the spacecraft, some of the bright splotches displayed in the news images may turn out to be superficial craters made of moving objects Slowly enough to survive, collided in Ultima Thule.

"I want to be very curious to see if they are boulders basically sitting in divisions," said Dr. Gladman.

JJ Kavelaars, an astronomer with Canada's National Research Council who was involved in the search for a Kuiper Belt object for New Horizons to visit and is a member of the mission science team, said the experience of seeing the pictures arriving this week has been almost others.

"It has been out there in space for four and a half billion years, and now people have managed to get out and see it. … I am in awe of this achievement," he said.

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New Horizon's successful flight of Kuiper

Belt item nicknamed Ultima Thule is the most

remote meeting of any spacecraft in history.

The fast probe is on a path to

eventually the solar system leaves completely.

Cost: Ca ..

US $ 700- $

Mission:

Exploring Pluto

and its moons then

Continue exploring

mysterious Kuiper Belt on

the edge of our solar system.

ivan semeniuk and john sopinski /

GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: NASA / JHUAPL / SWRI

New Horizon's successful flyer of the Kuiper Belt Object

The nickname Ultima Thule is the farthest meeting by

any spacecraft in history. The fast probe is on one

path to ultimately leave the solar system entirely.

Cost: Ca ..

US $ 700- $

Mission: To explore

Pluto and its moons

then move on to

examine the mysterious

Kuiper Belt at the edge

of our solar system.

ivan semeniuk and john sopinski /

GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NASA / JHUAPL / SWRI

New Horizon's successful flying city of Kuiper Belt Object named Ultima Thule

is the farthest meeting of any spacecraft in history. The fast probe

is on a path to ultimately leave the solar system entirely.

Cost: Ca ..

US $ 700- $

Mission: To

explore Pluto

and its moons

then continue

to research

mysterious

Kuiper Belt on

the edge of ours

solar system.

ivan semeniuk and john sopinski / GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NASA / JHUAPL / SWRI


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