Monday, 17 June, 2019

NASA's New Horizons releases first images of entire new world

Listen to New Horizons, Brian May's first solo single in 20 years Ultima Thule: Clearest image yet of 'snowman' space rock released by NASA
Sandra Phillips | 04 January, 2019, 12:16

To Earthlings, it looks like a snowman.

'These are the only remaining basic building blocks in the back yard 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. "Then suddenly you have this wonderful spacecraft zooming past it and taking the most incredible close-up pictures".

Because Pluto is so far away, New Horizons had to get moving at a phenomenal speed to get there in a reasonable amount of time.

These details though will provide scientists with a new perspective on planet formation. "On the other hand, it would be nice to go more than one day in 2019 without thinking about Nazis".

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

"We have far less than 1 percent of the data that's stored aboard the solid state recorders", says Alan Stern, principal investigator of NASA's New Horizons mission.

Carly Howett, another researcher of the mission, noted that "we can definitely say that Ultima Thule is red", perhaps due to irradiation of ice. The two objects were slowly pulled together by gravity, creating the "bilobed" object with a distinct "neck". "This really puts the nail in the coffin now", Stern said.

Instead, they focused on what the new images told them about planetary science.

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The larger sphere is "Ultima" and measures 19 kilometres across. It takes a long time for data to travel million of miles across space - and the first images downloaded by NASA scientists showcased only a fuzzy peanut-like shape. It's also the first Kuiper Belt object of its kind to ever be encountered by a spacecraft. "Now being scientists were not all that creative with words so we've chose to do is name one lobe Ultima and the other Thule".

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

"If you have a collision with another vehicle at those speeds, you may not bother to fill out the insurance forms", he joked.

The images we have of the object now show no obvious impact craters, but there are hills and ridges. They could not see any large craters on its surface, though they said some could be revealed in images taken from different angles. The icy object that looks like a snowman was dubbed Ultima Thule.

New Horizons - which previously revealed the majesty of Pluto in 2015 - swooped just 2,200 miles from the surface of MU69, which has been temporarily nicknamed Ultima Thule (the International Association of Astronomers will eventually endow MU69 with its official name). Many more photos are expected to be released soon.

Many of us know that the most distant of the known planets in the solar system was the tiny world we called planet Pluto.

In its original use, the term Ultima Thule is ancient, first used during the Roman Empire and also popular during the medieval period, referencing lands that are both very distant and very cold - which the Kuiper Belt object of course is. That's why it already holds such lessons about the formation of the planets. "What we're looking at is basically the first planetesimals", Moore said.

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