Holy planetesimal formation, Batman! Ultima Thule's no snowman - it's a friggin' pancake

New images of the distant Ultima Thule object have surprised scientists

Pancakes in space? No that's just the mysterious MU69

The larger lobe, nicknamed "Ultima", more closely resembles a giant pancake, and the smaller lobe, nicknamed "Thule", is shaped like a dented walnut, according to the mission team. A relatively long exposure time was used to maximise the camera's signal level at the expense of some blurring of the KBO's crescent.

The sequence of images was taken almost 10 minutes after the spacecraft's closest point of approach with the distant world (four billion miles away from our planet), and are just the latest in a trove of images New Horizons will send back to Earth.

Mission scientists created this "departure movie" from 14 different images taken by the New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) shortly after the spacecraft flew past the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule (officially named 2014 MU69) on January 1, 2019.

Ultima Thule is said to be the most distant world ever explored.

'We had an impression of Ultimate Thule based on the limited number of images returned in the days around the flyby, but seeing more data has significantly changed our view, ' Stern said.

"We've never seen anything like this orbiting the Sun", NASA said in a statement. This set, according to NASA, was captured almost 10 minutes after the ship crossed its closest approach.

Ultima Thule is the single farthest object in the solar system and for the first time in spacefaring history, humans are exploring it in great detail.

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Previously scientists called Ultima Thule "snowman" as the first close-up images revealed its two distinct and spherical segments. The images were taken almost 10 minutes after New Horizons crossed its closest approach point. "Nothing quite like this has ever been captured in imagery".

As New Horizons drifted through space at a speed of approximately 50,000kph, it was able to snap a number of incredible photos of the object officially known as 2014 MU69. New photos from the New Horizons spacecraft offer a new perspective on the small cosmic body 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away.

To help bolster the calculation of the shape, the research team observed the background stars in the series of images and noted when they "blinked out", giving an indication of what shapes the two lobes were.

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. "This will undoubtedly motivate new theories of planetesimal formation in the early Solar System". Scientists discovered its snowman-like structure after New Horizons began sending images to us here on Earth.

This interpretation is evident from the data acquired by the Nasa spacecraft when it looked back at icy Ultima Thule as it zoomed past at 50,000km/h.

"While the very nature of a fast flyby in some ways limits how well we can determine the true shape of Ultima Thule, the new results clearly show [the object] is much flatter than originally believed and much flatter than expected", said New Horizons project scientists Hal Weaver.

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