NASA's faraway space snowman has flat, not round, behind

Eloise Marshall
February 13, 2019

The latest image sequence from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft offers a new perspective on Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule.

The new images, taken when New Horizons was almost 9,000km from Ultima Thule, will give Moore's team plenty to chew over.

Previously scientists called Ultima Thule "snowman" as the first close-up images revealed its two distinct and spherical segments.

Mission scientists used 14 of these images to create a movie showing New Horizons' departure from its second target.

The Flat Earth Society may finally have a reason to rejoice over something, as the most recent photos taken by New Horizons show that the mysterious object Ultima Thule is actually flat.

The team now says that the larger lobe, that was nicknamed "Ultima" looks like a giant pancake.

"We had an impression of Ultima Thule based on the limited number of images returned in the days around the flyby, but seeing more data has significantly changed our view", New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement.

Ultima Thule is the most distant world ever explored. While KBOs were once far more common than they are now, the most distant areas of our planetary system probably never contained as much bulk material as the areas closer to the Sun.

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The departure images were taken from a different angle than the approach photos, revealing fresh information about the freaky celestial body.

It's not that easy to get accurate photos of the complete form of Ultima Thule, considering factors like distance from the sun, the side facing the light, and New Horizon's 50,000 km/h speed. However, analyses of newly beamed-back images - including many taken soon after closest approach - shows eclipsed stars re-appearing sooner than expected.

The object's illuminated crescent was initially blurred in individual frames because a long exposure was required during the rapid scan to boost the camera's signal level, but scientists have since been able to remove the blur and sharpen the thin crescent.

"Nothing quite like this has ever been captured in imagery", said Stern.

NASA's NewHorizons flew past Ultima Thule, an object located in a region of primordial objects 1 billion miles past Pluto. "This will undoubtedly motivate new theories of planetesimal formation in the early solar system".

New Horizons has been rocketing away from Ultima Thule since New Year's Day, but the data rate on the spacecraft is so low, we're still receiving telemetry from its initial encounters.

'That bowling pin is gone, ' the leader of the New Horizons joked, in reference to the first blurry images sent home after the flyby.

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