Icy Object Past Pluto Looks Like Reddish Snowman

Katie Ramirez
August 24, 2019

"New Horizons performed as planned, conducting the farthest exploration of any world in history - 4 billion miles (6.4 billion km) from the Sun", said New Horizons principal investigator Dr. Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute. But when better, closer pictures arrived, a new consensus emerged Wednesday.

"Our solar system is 4 billion years old... so its initial conditions have been kind of washed out", Kalirai explains. End to end, the world measures 19 miles (31 kilometers) in length.

The two-lobed object is what is known as a "contact binary". The rotation variables here are figured by watching the light curve given by Ultima Thule - it's most certainly a spinning set of buddies.

A spacecraft traveling about four billion miles from Earth is sending back data and photos of a distant rock at the edge of our solar system.

Time machine: There's more to Ultima Thula than meets the eye, and the images are just the start.

The team also discovered the region of Ultima Thule corresponding to the snowman's neck is one of its brightest parts, suggesting fine grain material may have rolled there due to steep slopes and gravity. Ultima and Thule then engaged in a slow, romantic waltz, circling each other until, at long last, contact was made.

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So far, no moons or rings have been detected. Scientists say no impact craters could be seen in the latest photos.

We also now know that Ultima Thule has a reddish/brown tint to its surface. Better images should yield definitive answers in the days and weeks ahead. Scientists believe the icy exterior is probably a mix of water, methane and nitrogen, among other things.

A NASA probe has beamed back images of an object lying one billion miles past Pluto - and the hi-res images show it looks like a 21-mile-high snowman. But puzzling through the origins of the Solar System using only the final products, like our own Earth, is like trying to discern a recipe from a loaf of fully baked bread: numerous components have already been substantially, and often irreversibly, altered by heat and time. The lobes, he said, were really only "resting on each other".

That's where Ultima Thule comes in: It looks to be a partial conglomeration of uncooked space dough-a premature mashup that could have served as the basis for a planet, but didn't.

May says the project "epitomises the human spirit's unceasing desire to understand the universe we inhabit" and adds: "Everyone who has devoted so much energy to this mission since its launch in January 2006 will be feeling they are actually inside that small but intrepid vehicle as it pulls off another spectacular close encounter".

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