'New Horizons' mission reveals entirely new kind of world

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The details of the shape conclusively answer the mystery of why New Horizons did not detect variations in Ultima Thule's brightness as it approached.

In a lengthy update by the New Horizons team, the group boasts that New Horizons sent back a signal to its handlers letting them know that it had filled its on-board recorders with a wealth of science data that it collected as it zoomed past Ultima Thule.

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.

Its appearance, unlike anything we have seen before, illuminates the processes that built the planets four and a half billion years ago, NASA said in a statement.

"We could not be happier", New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern said.

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Scientists had not discovered Ultima Thule when the probe was launched, according to NASA, making the mission unique in that respect.

Mission organizers have been criticized for calling the object by a name that Nazis used for the mythical birthplace of the Aryan race.

"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 unbelievable", Stern said.

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

A 15-hour rotation rate has also been established for Ultima Thule.


NASA uncovers icy matter resembling reddish snowman.

Ultima Thule is either one object with two connected lobes, sort of like a spinning bowling pin or peanut still in the shell, or two objects orbiting surprisingly close to one another. He joked: "If you had a collision with another auto at those speeds you may not even bother to fill out the insurance forms". This created a snowman-shaped, two-lobed binary object.

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

"We are seeing a physical representation of the beginnings of planetary formation, frozen in time", Moore said.

"Different kind of rocks", he said.


On December 31st, 2018, NASA and the New Horizon's team (plus millions of people watching the live stream at home) rang in the New Year by watching theNew Horizons mission make the first rendezvous in history with a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO).

And the images confirmed what observations using the Hubble Space Telescope had suggested as New Horizons scientists scouted Ultima Thule - that, like parts of Pluto and its moon Charon, it has a rusty hue. A single body is more likely, they noted.

The close-up photos of Ultima Thule lend support to a theory of planet formation. The small, icy world, nicknamed Ultima Thule, lies at a distance of 6.5 billion km from earth. We'll continue to learn much more about the object's geology in the coming hours and days. New Horizons's journey into the solar system's past has just begun.

"Moments like this are what keep me going", Verbiscer says.


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