NASA's faraway space snowman has flat behind

Rodiano Bonacci
Febbraio 15, 2019

The New Horizons spacecraft flew close to the Ultima Thule on January 1 and it managed to take some pictures that revealed something interesting.

Now, astronomers have been thrown for a loop when New Horizons' final series of images of Ultima Thule reveal that the twin rocks aren't actually round.

Originally described as being like a snowman, the new images show it to be more like two pancakes.

'We had an impression of Ultima Thule based on the limited number of images returned in the days around the flyby, but seeing more data has significantly changed our view, ' said mission commander Alan Stern. The most important aspect of this change in the structure is the fact that scientists cannot figure out how something of this shape can exist in space. It's the farthest place ever explored, and many concluded that it looked like a snowman. The data transmission rate of New Horizon is phenomenal and is supposed to take 20 months to complete the data download. "We've never seen something like this orbiting the Sun".

Nothing quite like this has ever been captured in imagery.

'It would be closer to reality to say Ultima Thule's shape is flatter, like a pancake.

The images were captured by the New Horizons probe as it raced past following its New Years flyby.

The snowman orbiting the sun
NASA’s faraway space snowman has flat, not round, behind

Ultima Thule lies in a distant part of our solar system, more than four billion miles away from Earth.

The central frame of the new sequence of images was taken at 12:42 a.m.

Mission managers are hoping to target an even more distant celestial object in the so-called Kuiper Belt, on the frozen fringes of the solar system, if the spacecraft remains healthy.

It was first discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014.

New Horizons is already 32 million miles beyond Ultima Thule.

Thule was the ancient Greek and Latin name for a land thought to be the northernmost point on Earth.

New photos from the New Horizons spacecraft offer a new perspective on the small cosmic body 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometres ) away. Its nickname means "beyond the borders of the known world". "This is exploration at its finest", said Adam L. Hamilton, president and CEO of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, after the object was first reached.

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