NASA’s New Horizons discovers Ultima Thule is not one object, but two
NASA’s New Horizons discovers Ultima Thule is not one object, but two
Listen to New Horizons, Brian May's first solo single in 20 years
05 January, 2019, 02:50
The deep space exploration craft New Horizons has sent back the first detailed images of an ancient world floating more than 4 billion miles from Earth, formally known as 2014 MU69.
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 21 miles (33 kilometers) in length.
It's also a glimpse 4.5 billion years back in time, to the origins of the solar system, because the distant planetesimal has nearly certainly orbited unchanged in the frozen Kuiper Belt since it formed.
Ultima's current rotation rate, estimated at about 15 hours for a complete turn, isn't fast enough to fling the two balls apart, Moore said. That means it is a single object, with two lobes, but the lobes are gently in contact.
Mark Showalter, a planetary astronomer at the SETI Institute and investigator on the New Horizons mission who led the naming contest, told Newsweek that Ultima Thule has a "long history" and that Nazism is not the first thing that people associate with the term, which he admits he never heard until the naming contest.
"What this spacecraft and this team accomplished is unprecedented", Alan Stern, the principal investigator of the New Horizons mission, said from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory on Wednesday. That will change as later images, taken at different angles, are sent back, Moore said.
Thule is anticipated to be 9 miles across while Ultima measures 12 miles (19 kilometers).
Ultima Thule is likely similar to some comets and asteroids that scientists have studied as they pass through the inner solar system.
"This thing was born somewhere between 99 percent and 99.9 percent of the way back to T-zero (liftoff) in our solar system, really incredible", Stern said.
Ultima Thule's surface reflects light about as much as "garden variety dirt", he said, as the sun's rays are 1,600 times fainter there than on Earth. Initially, the New Horizon's team believed that the object was a spherical chunk of ice and rock measuring 18-41 km (10-30 mi) in diameter.
In 2006, an unbelievable spacecraft was launched towards the dwarf planet Pluto, known as New Horizons. More than 100 scientists, including Heidi B. Hammel, a planetary scientist and a media liaison for the science team, gathered at 8 p.m. for a look.
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Ultima Thule is named for a mythical, far-northern island in medieval literature and cartography, according to NASA. The first signal back to Earth should come about 10 hours after the flyby, around 9:45 am (1445 GMT).
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