New Horizons beams back a new revelation about Ultima Thule

Olive Hawkins
February 11, 2019

By watching which ones "blinked out" as Ultima passed in front of them, the scientists were able to outline the object's odd shape.

However, after images of the flying and spinning object were received, Ultima Thule has turned out to be different from the way it had been originally described at first glance.

"The shape model we have derived from all of the existing Ultima Thule imagery is remarkably consistent with what we have learned from the new crescent images", said Simon Porter, a New Horizons co-investigator from the Southwest Research Institute, who leads the shape-modeling effort.

The bottom view is NASA's current best shape model for Ultima Thule, but still carries some uncertainty as an entire region was essentially hidden from view, and not illuminated by the Sun, during the New Horizons flyby. The dashed blue lines span the uncertainty in that hemisphere, which shows that Ultima Thule could be either flatter than, or not as flat as, depicted in this figure.

Fascinating fresh images have been taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft showing a view of Kuiper Belt object (KBO) - MU69, which goes by the nickname Ultima Thule.

New Horizons captured the last-look images on January 1 at 12:42 a.m. EST, when it was 5,494 miles (8,862 kilometers) beyond the Kuiper Belt object.

The primary close-up pictures of Ultima Thule - with its two particular and, evidently, circular fragments - had onlookers considering it a "snowman".

As New Horizons drifted through space at a speed of approximately 50,000kph, it was able to snap a number of unbelievable photos of the object officially known as 2014 MU69. Now New Horizons is bidding farewell to another long-distance neighbor, but not before throwing scientists new puzzles to munch on about the odd Ultima Thule.

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As the shape is relatively unprecedented, scientists hope it will help solve some longstanding mysteries about the solar system's 4.5 billion years of history. The image to the left is an "average" of ten images. This is the farthest movie of any object in our Solar System ever made by any spacecraft.

It's hard to see in the video, but scientists have been able to work out more about the object's shape by looking at the way that it blocks out the stars behind it as it passes by.

Thanks to the close observations, we now know the small, oddly shaped world is 'two objects conjoined, ' Stern says.

The larger lobe, nicknamed "Ultima", more closely resembles a giant pancake and the smaller lobe, nicknamed "Thule", is shaped like a dented walnut.

However, more analysis of approach images and new departure images have changed that view. Yep, Ultima Thule is more of a space pancake than a snowman. "We've never seen something like this orbiting the Sun", he said.

The departure pictures were taken from an unexpected point in comparison to the methodology photographs and uncover integral data on Ultima Thule's shape.

Stars can be seen "blinking out" in the background of an animation created from several images stitched together as New Horizons flew by.

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