New images of the distant Ultima Thule object have surprised scientists
Friday February 8, 2019. 09:45 PM , from Ars Technica
Enlarge / New Horizons took this image of the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 (nicknamed Ultima Thule) on Jan. 1, 2019, when the NASA spacecraft was 8,862km beyond it. The image to the left is an 'average' of ten images. (credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)
Back in early January, when scientists pulled down their first batch of data from the New Horizons spacecraft, they celebrated an odd snowman-shaped object in the outer Solar System. 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.
Now that scientists have downloaded more data from the distant spacecraft, however, our view of Ultima Thule has changed. A sequence of images captured as New Horizons moved away from the object in the Kuiper Belt at a velocity of 50,000 km/hour, taken about 10 minutes after closest approach, show a much flatter appearance.
After analyzing these new images, scientists say the larger lobe more closely resembles a large pancake, and the smaller lobe looks a bit like a walnut. The new photos reveal a dramatically different object because they were taken from a different angle than the images that were downloaded first.
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