Nasa shows first photo of distant world from New Horizons probe

Nasa shows first photo of distant world from New Horizons probe

Nasa shows first photo of distant world from New Horizons probe

That's because the New Horizons spacecraft, which has now traveled some 4 billion miles through our Solar System, finally made its flyby of the most distant object ever studied up close.

The latest images, from the probe's LORRI telescope, were taken on approach to 2014 MU69, 18,000 miles away, 30 minutes before the spacecraft flew by less than 2,200 miles from the object.

In March, NASA and the New Horizons team announced their decision to use Ultima Thule as a nickname for the second stop on their solar system tour, which is officially known as 2014 MU69, a formula that designates when it was discovered.

Color may seem trivial, but for the New Horizons team, it's critical information that will help the researchers determine what ices and minerals decorate the object's surface, says Silvia Protopapa, a co-investigator of the New Horizons Kuiper Belt Extended Mission. "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", she said. The mission scientists believe that 4.5 billion years ago, a rotating cloud of small, icy bodies coalesced.

It's also a glimpse 4.5 billion years back in time, to the origins of the solar system, because the distant planetesimal has nearly certainly orbited unchanged in the frozen Kuiper Belt since it formed.

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"We should think of New Horizons as a time machine, a wayback machine to time zero", Moore said.

With such a bland designation, astronomers came up with a very interesting name for this tiny object: "Ultima Thule", a Latin metaphor for a place that is beyond the borders of the known world.

"They're clearly two objects that have come together", says New Horizons' Deputy Project Scientist Cathy Olkin.

The dark object is formed of two spheres which have combined to form one celestial object.

And here's the rough image we had of Ultima Thule yesterday so that you can really see the differences in resolution. The image on the right combines the tow to give us a clearer view in color. An earlier colour image, taken by the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVC), shows a reddish surface, that, rather than NASA's snowman assertion, put us in mind of South Park's Mr Hankey.

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Signals confirming the probe is healthy and had filled its digital recorders with science data on Ultima Thule reached the mission operations center at 10:29 a.m. EST (3:29 p.m. GMT).

The narrow "neck" between the two lobes appears to be relatively bright, perhaps suggesting that particular materials might have settled there. NASA dubbed the larger lobe Ultima, and the other, which is about three times smaller, Thule.

Stern noted that the team has received less than 1 percent of all the data stored aboard New Horizons.

This is just the beginning of what we will learn about this otherworldly object.

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