Sunday, 16 June, 2019

This is Our Finest Look So Far at Ultima Thule

This image made available by NASA on Wednesday Jan. 2 2019 shows images with separate color and detail information and a composited image of both showing Ultima Thule about 1 billion miles beyond Pluto. The New Horizons spacecraft encountered it on T The Newly Released Image Of Ultima Thule, The Farthest Object Ever Explored, Is Mind-Blowing - Digg
Sandy Nunez | 06 January, 2019, 19:58

Ultima Thule, an icy world 4 billion miles from the sun, looks like a big snowman.

Following its historic visit to Pluto, New Horizons has spent the past four years heading to a distant place only discovered in 2014: Ultima Thule. There are hundreds of thousands of Kuiper members like Ultima, and their frigid state nearly certainly holds clues to how all planetary bodies came into being some 4.6 billion years ago.

New Horizons-which launched in 2006-will continue to observe Ultima Thule over the next couple of years, with scientists hoping that the spacecraft will provide more fascinating insights into the distant object.

A few months ago, scientists looking at Ultima Thule from telescopes here on Earth concluded that the asteroid was weirdly elongated, something reinforced by some of the recent photos.

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New Horizons' extended mission also includes observations of more than two-dozen other Kuiper Belt objects, as well as measurements of the plasma, gas and dust environment of the Kuiper Belt.

Data obtained from the probe, also point out that Ultima Thule is an extremely dark asteroid.

Jeff Moore, a New Horizons co-investigator from Nasa's Ames Research Center, said the pair would have come together at very low speed, at maybe 2-3km/h. Jeff Moore, head of NASA Ames' geology and geophysics team describes the speeds best, stating, "if you were in a vehicle collision... you wouldn't bother to fill out insurance forms". "Ultima is telling us about our evolutionary history", The Washington Post cites Cathy Olkin, the mission's deputy project scientist. Its color is mostly red, though, according to Carly Howett from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). Essentially, its surface has been "burnt" over the eons by the high-energy cosmic rays and X-rays that flood space. The good news is that New Horizons is equipped with an instrument designed specifically to spot objects that are far away.

Data transmission will resume on January 10, starting a 20-month download of the spacecraft's remaining scientific treasures. "These are the first pictures of this asteroid", the message says. Pictures are expected in February that were captured at the moment of closest approach and these will have a resolution of about 35m per pixel.