First Clear Picture Of Ultima Thule Reveals Snowman-Like Shape

First Clear Picture Of Ultima Thule Reveals Snowman-Like Shape

First Clear Picture Of Ultima Thule Reveals Snowman-Like Shape

It comes after an unmanned NASA spacecraft sent a signal back to Earth after making a successful fly-by past the space object - the most distant world ever studied by mankind.

NASA shared a graphic showing how an object like Ultima Thule forms: "as a rotating cloud of small, icy bodies started to combine".

Images taken during the spacecraft's approach - which brought New Horizons to within just 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) of Ultima at 12:33 a.m. EST - revealed that the Kuiper Belt object may have a shape similar to a bowling pin, spinning end over end, with dimensions of approximately 20 by 10 miles (32 by 16 kilometers).

That's why New Horizons team members were so keen to fly by the object, and why they're so excited by the early science returns from the epic New Year's Day encounter.

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Three views of Ultima Thule. The larger lobe is the "bottom" sphere and the smaller lobe is the "upper" sphere.

The body is roughly 19 miles long and completes its own rotation in about 15 hours.

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The Kuiper Belt body also has an extremely low surface reflectivity, with the New Horizons team likening it to dark potting soil in a garden.

The neck area is also sloped enough that objects and fine grain elements can tumble or roll down the slopes and settle in the valley where the two lobes meet - something which likely explains the higher albedo seen in the data thus far returned from New Horizons. The left image is color-enhanced.

In 2015, the spacecraft passed Pluto, providing the first images of a world once considered our ninth planet.

The new imagery, dramatic though it may be, is just the tip of the Ultima Thule iceberg. Therefore, it wasn't practical for New Horizons to enter orbit of Pluto. A second batch of photos released Wednesday was more clear, prompting mission scientists to narrow their description from "bowling pin" to "snowman", AP reports.

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