Research

Ultima Thule emerges as contact binary, "cosmic snowman", in new spacecraft images

Ultima Thule emerges as contact binary,

The reddish snowman picture was taken a half-hour before the spacecraft's closest approach early Tuesday, from a distance of about 18,000 miles (28,000 kilometers).

These details though will provide scientists with a new perspective on planet formation.

This tiny Kuiper Belt asteroid-like body, 2014 MU69, was the new target of the New Horizon's spacecraft.

It will take almost two years to beam all of the images and data the piano-sized spacecraft collected back to Earth.

One leading theory is that of pebble accretion, which posits that bits of raw planetary material of all shapes and sizes glommed onto each other until they became singular, gargantuan units.

"Our solar system is four billion years old... so its initial conditions have been kind of washed out", Kalirai explains.

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Clues about the surface composition of Ultima Thule should start rolling in by Thursday.

"I don't know about all of you, but I'm really liking this 2019 thing so far", lead scientist Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute. That means it is a single object, with two lobes, but the lobes are gently in contact. "We have far less than 1 percent of the data ... already down on the ground", Stern said. "I would say that just because some bad guys once liked that term, we're not going to let them hijack it".

"Ultima Thule"-a traditional name of distant places beyond the known world-was a "relatively common suggestion" among some 34,000 publicly nominated monikers, Newsweek's Meghan Bartels reported in March".

Among the images the scientists are hoping to receive are "higher resolution views" and pictures taken when the sun is at a better angle for viewing Ultima Thule. About thirty minutes after the probe conducted its flyby of Ultima Thule (2014 MU69), the mission controllers were treated to the first clear images ever taken of a KBO. The larger sphere, which is an estimated 12 miles across, has been named "Ultima". Ultima Thule rotates about once every 15 hours, the scientists determined. "If you had a collision with another auto at those speeds, you may not even bother to fill out the insurance forms", he said.

And the objects adjoin at a narrow neck, but evidence suggests they are held together by gravity and not some other force, Stern said. Scientists say no impact craters could be seen in the latest photos. "This is exactly what we need to move the modeling work on planetary formation forward". Included in this will be a series of much higher-resolution images that will provide an even greater look at Ultima Thule, now the farthest object from Earth to ever be photographed by a spacecraft.

Nasa said that the goal of the New Horizons mission was to explore Pluto and Kuiper Belt to study "the origins and outskirts of our solar system". Many more photos are expected to be released soon.


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