New Horizons probe reveals distant Ultima Thule asteroid looks like a snowman

New Horizons probe reveals distant Ultima Thule asteroid looks like a snowman

Now they will work to download and look through all of the data sent back over that long distance, a process that could take years. The first batch that scientists revealed Wednesday was only a taste, but it was a tantalizing one, they said.

More data on Ultima Thule is streaming back to NASA at this very moment, so expect additional announcements in the coming days.

"The flyby is a historic achievement", said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in the US. Occasional astrophysicist and guitarist for Queen Brian May has gifted us with a song in tribute to NASA's successful mission to flyby Ultima Thule. NASA said during today's press conference that better lighting and closer proximity to the target will result in much improved images.

Stern expressed surprise, and elation, that after picking the mission target "more or less" out of the hat, "that we were able to get as big a victor as this, that is going to revolutionize our knowledge of planetary science".

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

Early images show that Ultima Thule is about 31 kilometers by 19 kilometers. The team has dubbed the larger sphere "Ultima" (12 miles/19 kilometers across) and the smaller sphere "Thule" (9 miles/14 kilometers across).

About ten hours ago, NASA shared a picture of the snowman-shaped Ultima Thule on Twitter.

Despite the slender connection point, the two lobes are "soundly bound" together, according to Moore.

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"If you have a collision with another auto at those speeds, you may not bother to fill out the insurance forms", he joked. It likely began as two separate objects that joined together over time. "We are seeing a physical representation of the beginning of planetary formation, frozen in time", he said. This world lies in a far-off group of objects, called the Kuiper Belt, that ring the solar system.

That was when the New Horizons spacecraft flew by a celestial object nicknamed Ultima Thule, which is 1.6 billion kilometres beyond Pluto.

What will New Horizons show us when it transmits an even more HD image to Earth? Many more photos are expected to be released soon.

While some have compared Ultima Thule to a snowman, others to a peanut.

This means we're truly seeing one of the first planetesimals, or objects, that went on to form planets. "We know that this is how these kinds of objects in many cases form".

This artist's impression 2014 MU69, or Ultima Thule, may not be that far off: the Kuiper Belt object appears to be a duo locked in a permanent kiss. As such, scientists still aren't entirely sure how the planets of the Solar System got their start.

"I didn't imagine that it could happen", May said.

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