Nasa has revealed the first photo of the distant world of Ultima Thule, the most distant object that humanity has ever explored. Together they form Ultima Thule, a frozen world that is almost 4.5 billion miles from Earth, more distant than Pluto.
This composite image made available by NASA shows the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed "Ultima Thule", indicated by the crosshairs at center, with stars surrounding it made by the New Horizons spacecraft, on August 16, 2018.
Ultima Thule was one of 37 monikers that people nominated and was a "relatively common suggestion", though not common enough to suggest ballot-stuffing by trolls or other bad actors, according to Bartels' reporting. And the metaphors write themselves!
"This mission has always been about delayed gratification", Stern said on Tuesday.
The distant object that NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew past January 1 is now taking shape as a body - or bodies - unlike any visited by a spacecraft to date.
Those larger specs then continued to clump together until objects greater than 1 kilometer in size formed and began attracting each other with their gravity... and so on to form the larger objects in our solar system today.
"Think of New Horizons as a time machine that has brought us back to the very beginning of the solar system, to a place where we can observe the most primordial building blocks of the planets". 'We could not be happier, ' he said.
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Preliminary measurements of this Kuiper Belt object suggest it is about 20 miles long by 10 miles wide.
Ultima was chosen as a follow-up object for study, coming after New Horizons' 2015 flyby of Pluto and its moons. Over time, dust and pebbles clumped together to form the object's two lobes, which eventually combined to form a single body.
New Horizons, designed by and managed from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, has been speeding toward the edge of the solar system for 13 years. It does show the tight, squeezed area of a belt, the small region where the two lobes are in contact.
The color photo was then combined with the image taken by the LORRI camera (which has almost five times the spatial resolution of the MVIC) to produce a detailed image that shows the color uniformity of the Ultima and Thule lobes. "It's awesome, and the whole trip with New Horizons is such a privilege for me". "We may discover that it doesn't have many craters and we may very well find that most of the surface texture is dominated by the slow accretion processes and not the high-energy impacts that cause craters". Before that, scientists only had a blurry image of the body and thought it was composed of two more elongated parts - resembling something more like a peanut or bowling pin.
"We were chasing it in the dark at 3,200 miles an hour, and all that had to happen just right", Stern stressed.
Researchers say that the so-called "contact binary" could help yield clues about how other planets formed.
We may never, never reach them. But it's a bummer that the New Horizons team is doubling down on the name, despite already knowing about its nefarious second meaning.