'Snowman' shape of distant Ultima Thule revealed

05 January, 2019, 06:44 | Author: Courtney Reynolds
  • 2014 MU69

It's a moment that could define the future, but the name "Ultima Thule" is one from the past. Closer to the sun, these building blocks would go on to form Earth, Mars, and all the other planets.

"Ultima Thule" was one of 37 contenders that the New Horizons team selected from 34,000 public suggestions and put to the vote.

During the run-up to today's news conference, a buzz broke out on Twitter over the fact that the term "Ultima Thule", which in ancient times denoted a place beyond the known world, became a part of Nazi mythology. Before Ultima Thule was intercepted by the New Horizons spacecraft, scientists knew nearly nothing about it, but they were eager for a glimpse of what's thought to be an nearly unchanged relic from our solar system's earliest days.

The event, which marks the most distant and possibly the oldest object ever visited by a space probe, ushered in the era of exploration from the enigmatic Kuiper Belt, NASA said in a statement.

As the spacecraft transmits dozens more data sets to Earth, "we'll write new chapters in the story of Ultima Thule-and the Solar System", according to New Horizons Project Manager Helene Winters.

"I'm surprised that more or less picking one Kuiper belt object out of the hat, that we were able to get such a victor as this", Stern says. Now, May has combined both of his loves on "New Horizons", his first solo song in more than two decades. Scientists say no impact craters could be seen in the latest photos.

Among other things, Ultima Thule has been compared to a giant space turtle, a fat bowling pin and "Kenny from South Park". "If that proposal is accepted, we would start a search for [another] object that we could fly by", Stern said. At right, the color has been overlaid onto the LORRI image to show the color uniformity of the Ultima and Thule lobes.

Cathy Olkin

Stern expressed surprise, and elation, that after picking the mission target "more or less" out of the hat, "that we were able to get as big a victor as this, that is going to revolutionize our knowledge of planetary science".

"Everybody was there", Hammel said. The slow data-rates from the Kuiper belt mean it will be fully 20 months before all the information is pulled off the spacecraft.

Ultima Thule, a name that was nominated by 40 people, won the public poll.

"[Ultima's] only really the size of something like Washington DC, and it's about as reflective as garden variety dirt, and it's illuminated by a Sun that's 1900 times fainter than it is outside on a sunny day here on the Earth". "And it's illuminated by a sun that's 1,900 times fainter than it is outside on a sunny day on Earth, So we're basically chasing it down in the dark at 32,000 miles per hour".

The New Horizons team is already pushing for another flyby in the 2020s, while the nuclear power and other spacecraft systems are still good.

Carly Howett, another researcher of the mission, noted that "we can definitely say that Ultima Thule is red", perhaps due to irradiation of ice.

"Everything that we're going to tell you [today] is just the tip of the iceberg", Dr Stern said.

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