Published: Sat, August 24, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

NASA names most distant explored object with term used by Nazis

NASA names most distant explored object with term used by Nazis

Terry Oswalt, Professor of Physics & Chair at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, said its observations will help planetary scientists understand how the solar system formed.

For more on New Horizons and its historic journey through the Solar System, watch "Pluto and Beyond", premiering tonight at 9 p.m. ET / 8 p.m CT on PBS. "It's a snowman!" lead scientist Alan Stern informed the world from Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, home to Mission Control in Laurel.

"In the coming months, New Horizons will transmit dozens of data sets to Earth, and we'll write new chapters in the story of Ultima Thule - and the solar system", said Helene Winters, New Horizons Project Manager.

Together they form Ultima Thule, a frozen world that is almost 4.5 billion miles from Earth, more distant than Pluto. With the arrival of the photos, they are now calling the bigger sphere Ultima and the smaller one Thule.

On Jan.1, New Horizons made history with the first flyby New Horizons Mission Reveals Entirely New Kind of World.

Previous headshots the New Horizons probe snapped of Ultima Thule were taken from around 500,000km away, and were so blurry that scientists couldn't say for certain whether it was one object or two in close orbit.

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It also looks pristine, nearly unchanged since it formed out of a disk of dust and gas that orbited the sun more than 4.5 billion years ago. For example, comets that visit Earth from the Kuiper belt have had a peanutlike profile similar to MU69, prompting debate about whether they were sculpted by the sun's heat or looked that way from the start.

The images are obviously very low in resolution, and it's not immediately clear if or when we'll get a better glimpse of the rock, but New Horizons still has a lot of data to beam back to Earth.

New Horizons scientists were surprised by Ultima Thule's binary composition, and the team has spent the past day trying to figure out how the object formed.

Still, he said, when all the data comes in, "there are going to be mysteries of Ultima Thule that we can't figure out".

The new images, taken during the New Year's flyby, are the first to confirm that Ultima Thule's teeny waistline is more a juncture than an hourglass. Is it two icy objects orbiting each other, or a single "peanut"? Now, NASA scientists have revealed the first detailed images of the Ultima Thule captured by the spacecraft. NASA said during today's press conference that better lighting and closer proximity to the target will result in much improved images. This would indicate that Ultima Thule's either never had a run-in with another space body and/or was broken off of some other larger body of material so recently that no major added damage has yet occurred.

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