Ultima Thule Looks Like a Snowman in First New Horizons Images

Listen to New Horizons, Brian May's first solo single in 20 years

New Horizons unveils a new world. Actually, it's 2 worlds smashed together.

This composite image made available by NASA shows the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed "Ultima Thule", indicated by the crosshairs at center, with stars surrounding it on August 16, 2018, made by the New Horizons spacecraft.

New Horizons will get even more up close and personal with Ultima soon - as soon as tomorrow - with at least one image expected to come in at nearly 200 miles per pixel.

Demonstrating a disappointing lack of imagination, scientists have dubbed the larger sphere (12 miles across) "Ultima" and the smaller (nine miles across) "Thule".

Even clearer pictures are arriving on Earth in another transmission.

"The flyby is a historic achievement", said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in the US.

"New Horizons holds a dear place in our hearts as an intrepid and persistent little explorer, as well as a great photographer", said Dr. Ralph Semmel, Director of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

Released by NASA, this is the first colour image of Ultima Thule, taken at a distance of 137,000 kilometres and highlighting its reddish surface. The centre image taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) has a higher spatial resolution than MVIC by approximately a factor of five. The new images revealed that the object is in fact a contact binary, consisting of two spheres that measure 31 km (19 mi) from end to end. Scientists speculated that it could be single, likely elongated object, or two objects closely orbiting each other.

The narrow "neck" between the two lobes appears to be relatively bright, perhaps suggesting that particular materials might have settled there.

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"You can see they're clearly two separate objects that have come together", said Cathy Olkin, the mission's deputy project scientist.

The balance of the massive amount of data collected by New Horizons' suite of seven instruments will be streamed back to Earth - there is about a six-hour delay in receiving the radio signal from the spacecraft - over the next 20 months.

Nasa said that the goal of the New Horizons mission was to explore Pluto and Kuiper Belt to study "the origins and outskirts of our solar system".

New Horizons conducted its successful flyby of Ultima Thule, which is classed as a minor planet, on Tuesday.

Though Ultima Thule formed a long time ago, it remains pristine, seemingly unmarked by craters.

What has got scientists all a-quiver is that the appearance of Ultima Thule seems to confirm theories of planetary accretion, which has specks of dust colliding to form objects with sufficient gravity to attract each other.

We may never, never reach them. "It's something that's completely different".

"Just because some bad guys once liked that term, we're not going to let 'em hijack it", Stern said.

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