Published: Mon, February 11, 2019
Science | By

NASA releases fantastic flyby GIF of odd Ultima Thule object

NASA releases fantastic flyby GIF of odd Ultima Thule object

From this first look, it appeared as though Ultima Thule, formally named 2014 MU69, consisted of two spheres in contact with one another-a contact binary.

Mission scientists created this "departure movie" from 14 different images taken by the New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) shortly after the spacecraft flew past the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule (officially named 2014 MU69) on January 1, 2019. He added: "We've never seen something like this orbiting the sun". At left: An "average" of 10 photos taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI); the crescent is blurred because a relatively long exposure time was used during this rapid scan to boost the camera's signal level. The encounter set a new record for the most distant ever visit to a Solar System object by a spacecraft. As it's situated in the Kuiper Belt about 4.1 billion miles from Earth, there's much about MU69 that scientists are still learning.

The departure images were taken from a different angle than the approach photos and reveal complementary information on Ultima Thule's shape.

This interpretation is evident from the data acquired by the Nasa spacecraft when it looked back at icy Ultima Thule as it zoomed past at 50,000km/h.

Now, it can be confirmed that the two sections of Ultima Thule are not spherical like a snowman, but rather like a giant pancake connected to a smaller, dented walnut.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft offers an evocative series of an image- a departing view of the Kuiper Belt object (KBO) nicknamed Ultima Thule. The images were taken almost 10 minutes after New Horizons crossed its closest approach point.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft recently flew past the object dubbed Ultima Thule at a blistering speed, but not before snapping a few photos.

They are less certain how the object came to be, which will remain the biggest puzzle they will try to solve in the coming days while waiting for more of New Horizon's last images to arrive.

As New Horizons beams more images through the solar system, we'll nearly certainly continue seeing weird, unprecedented stuff.

Many background stars are also seen in the individual images; watching which stars "blinked out" as the object passed in front them allowed scientists to outline the shape of both lobes, which could then be compared to a model assembled from analysing pre-flyby images and ground-based telescope observations.

The images were taken almost 10 minutes after New Horizons crossed its closest approach point. It'll take a total of about 20 months for New Horizons to send home all of its flyby imagery and measurements, mission team members have said. More data should help to resolve some of these questions as scientists study Ultima Thule.

"While the very nature of a fast flyby in some ways limits how well we can determine the true shape of Ultima Thule, the new results clearly show [the object] is much flatter than originally believed and much flatter than expected", said New Horizons project scientists Hal Weaver. "This will undoubtedly motivate new theories of planetesimal formation in the early solar system".

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