NASA Has Photographed The Furthest Object Ever Explored

Image released Jan 1 taken from 500,000 km showing an bowling pin shape. Newer images show a contact binary

Image released Jan 1 taken from 500,000 km showing an bowling pin shape. Newer images show a contact binary

Ultima Thule, as the small, icy object has been dubbed, was found to consist of two fused-together spheres, one of them three times bigger than the other, extending about 20 miles (32 kilometers) across.

The announcement came Wednesday from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, and was streamed via NASA TV.

Nasa has shared new pictures of Ultima Thule - and it turns out it looks a bit like a snowman.

"New Horizons performed as planned today, conducting the farthest exploration of any world in history - 4 billion miles from the Sun", New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern said in a statement. That means it is a single object, with two lobes, but the lobes are gently in contact.

"The bowling pin is gone". Now, the updated image reveals an object more akin to a snowman.

The scientists now say with confidence that Ultima Thule long ago was two bodies that got stuck together, what they call a "contact binary".

As well as being the most distant object reached, Ultima Thule may be the oldest celestial object to be studied by a spacecraft.

New Horizons spent 13 years travelling to Ultima Thule's location at the heart of the Kuiper Belt. The next step for NASA will be to download and analyze the data captured, a process that could take years.

Taken at the Mission Operations Center of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel Maryland on Jan. 1 2019

The images released so far are "just the tip of the iceberg", Stern said, adding only 1% of data stored on the spacecraft has now been received by scientists.

The MU69 story is only starting to unfold, Stern added.

A few months ago, scientists looking at Ultima Thule from telescopes here on Earth concluded that the asteroid was weirdly elongated, something reinforced by some of the recent photos.

"We have a healthy spacecraft", announced Alice Bowman, Mission Operations Manager for New Horizons, to a cheering crowd of scientists, engineers, members of the media, and guests on Tuesday morning. "These are the only remaining basic building blocks".

"This is fundamentally important because it's our first look at a real Kuiper belt object - in this case, a planetesimal - the thing that these small planets were built out of", Stern said. "We are seeing a physical representation of the beginning of planetary formation, frozen in time".

When asked about the Nazis' use of the term, Showalter confirmed that he was aware of the usage and said that the New Horizons team and NASA, including its legal department, decided that the original meaning was more prominent and outweighed the less savory connotations.

The man who chose the name "Ultima Thule" was the town's first postmaster, Joseph W. McKean, "a veteran of the Florida Wars and an "intimate friend" of Andrew Jackson and Davy Crockett", notes the Arkansas Records Catalog.

"Everything that we're going to tell you [today] is just the tip of the iceberg", Dr Stern said.

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