NASA’s New Horizons mission releases snowman-like picture of Ultima Thule

New Horizons Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory is seen before a news conference after the team received confirmation from the New Horizons spacecraft that it has completed the flyby of Ultim

New Horizons is named after the New Horizon space probe, and premiered on NASA TV on New Years Day, to coincide with the probe passing Ultima Thule in the Kuiper Belt, an object located a billion miles beyond Pluto, and the most distant rock ever to be visited by the human race.

A primordial element from the formation of our solar system, the bilobate 2014 MU69 took a few hundred thousand years to a million years to form from a scattering of small rocky objects gravitationally swirling around each other that gradually formed two large spherical rocks.

New Horizons was launched in 2006 on a mission to fly by Pluto.

The surface features of Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule (2014 MU69) are coming into focus in these images taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft during its historic flyby on January 1, 2019. "We are seeing a physical representation of the beginning of planetary formation, frozen in time". Flyby data have already solved one of Ultima's mysteries, showing that the Kuiper Belt object is spinning like a propeller with the axis pointing approximately toward New Horizons.

The larger sphere is "Ultima" and measures 19 kilometres across.

Planetary scientists have never before seen a close-up of an object like Ultima Thule.

It is hoped the information taken from Ultima will provide clues as to the formation of the Solar System. The team has still not determined the rotation period.

"I was inspired by the idea that this is the furthest that the Hand Of Man has ever reached", says May.

While much higher-resolution images will provide a better sense of the topography and geography of 2014 MU69, what is now known is that the bottom, larger lobe ("Ultima") contains changes in elevation greater than one kilometer and that the upper, smaller lobe ("Thule") may contain a plateau feature. From left to right: an enhanced color image, a higher-resolution black and white image, and an overlay that combines both into a more detailed view.

The first resolved photos of Ultima Thule have come in from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, which zoomed past the frigid faraway object just after midnight yesterday (Jan. 1). Therefore, it wasn't practical for New Horizons to enter orbit of Pluto. This explains why, in earlier images taken before Ultima was resolved, its brightness didn't appear to vary as it rotated.

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