Ultima Thule is first contact binary to be explored by a spacecraft

Ultima Thule is first contact binary to be explored by a spacecraft

Ultima Thule is first contact binary to be explored by a spacecraft

Ultima Thule, as the small, icy matter has been entitled was discovered to contain two mingled simultaneously spheres, one three times more extensive than the other enlarging about 21 miles (33 kilometers) in length.

Mission operations manager Alice Bowman said she was more nervous this time than she was with Pluto in 2015 because of the challenges and distance, so vast that messages take more than six hours, one way, to cross the 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers).

The New Horizons team combined a low-resolution color image of 2014 MU69, or Ultima Thule, with sharper black-and-white imagery to produce the composite view at right. Note the reduced red coloring at the neck of the object.

In a gorgeous new image delivered by New Horizons we can see that Ultima Thule is actually two rocks of differing sizes flying in tandem and touching.

"That image is so 2018".

Image caption: This image, taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager, is the most detailed of Ultima Thule returned so far by the New Horizons spacecraft. It'll take 20 months to send all 7 gigabytes of data - at which point New Horizons can start scanning space for its next destination. "What this spacecraft and this team accomplished is unprecedented".

"The term "Ultima Thule" was many centuries old ... and is a wonderful name for exploration".

By week's end, "Ultima Thule is going to be a completely different world, compared to what we're seeing now", Weaver noted.

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When New Horizons left Earth in 2006, scientists did not even know about Ultima Thule's existence.

Images also revealed that the two lobes have a mottled appearance.

"This really puts the nail on the coffin now". We'll forgive them for not coming up with anything more creative since their minds are likely blown by the sight of planetary formation caught in the act, so to speak.

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.

If such a meeting occurred between two cars in a parking lot, he said, no driver would bother writing it up.

"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 wonderful", Stern said. Unlike comets and other objects that have been altered by the sun over time, Ultima Thule is in its pure, original state: It's been in the deep-freeze Kuiper Belt on the fringes of our solar system from the beginning.

Prior to today, images of Ultima Thule were only a handful of pixels across, leaving the object's true physique ambiguous.

Principal Investigator Alan Stern paid tribute to the skill of his team in acquiring the image as New Horizons flew past the object at 3500km at closest approach.

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