First high-resolution images of snowman-shaped Ultima Thule released by Nasa

First high-resolution images of snowman-shaped Ultima Thule released by Nasa

A NASA spacecraft travelling through space sent back pictures of the most distant object explored by mankind on Wednesday.

As the new year arrived here on Earth, the team at NASA began receiving the first data from the New Horizons spacecraft confirming it had reached a mysterious object on the outer edge of our solar system.

Unlike in the inner Solar System, there are probably very few collisions between objects.

"This object, which we can now see is a contact binary, used to be two separate objects that are now bound together", NASA wrote on Twitter. That's why it already holds such lessons about the formation of the planets.

SwRI's Cathy Olkin, one of the mission's deputy project scientists, said the red color could well be due to organic chemicals known as tholins that are coating the surface. For now, researchers have plenty of Ultima Thule data to decipher. He's a rocket scientist by day and rock star by night.

The new length measurement of 33 km (21 miles). The direction of Ultima's spin axis is indicated by the arrows. The center image is the high-resolution picture snapped by LORRI at the same time. Now, with signals finally coming back from New Horizons, NASA can rest easy.

But now, clearer images have revealed a snowman. "That's elation", he said.


It's a moment that could define the future, but the name "Ultima Thule" is one from the past.

The hope is that the course of the spacecraft can be altered slightly to visit at least one more Kuiper belt object sometime in the next decade.

"The bowling pin is gone". "It's going to revolutionize our knowledge of planetary science".

The celestial body was nicknamed Ultima Thule - meaning "beyond the known world" - before scientists could say for sure whether it was one object or two. "You don't need to fill out any paperwork". The larger sphere, which is an estimated 12 miles across, has been named "Ultima". New Horizons's journey into the solar system's past has just begun. "That has brought us back to the very beginning of solar system history, to a place where we can observe the most primordial building blocks of the planets".

The first color image of Ultima Thule.

The color is thought to be the result of processed volatile ices that have been irradiated. This explains why, in earlier images taken before Ultima was resolved, its brightness didn't appear to vary as it rotated. 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. That includes a brief delay next week, when the sun comes between the Earth and the spacecraft, blocking all transmissions.

The neck area is also sloped enough that objects and fine grain elements can tumble or roll down the slopes and settle in the valley where the two lobes meet - something which likely explains the higher albedo seen in the data thus far returned from New Horizons.

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