Tuesday, January 8, 2019

First Data Received from New Horizon’s Ultima Thule Flyby

Article Written By: Kyle Tam


    On New Year’s Day, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft famous for its Pluto flyby in 2015 flew by the farthest-ever reached object by humankind. Now after a few days, NASA is receiving the first data from this historic flyby of Ultima Thule, also known as Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69.
    Amongst the things received from New Horizons is the first resolved photos of Ultima Thule. These images reveal a 33 kilometre (21 mile-long) “contact binary” body composed of two roughly spherical lobes. These lobes are red and their icy surface is likely discoloured by deep-space radiation. The process that created this colour is likely responsible for the similar reddish hue visible on Pluto’s surface and the northern parts of its largest moon Charon.
    Ultima Thule is a remnant of the early solar system. Countless objects similar to Ultima Thule coalesced to form the solar system’s planets. However this did not happen to Ultima Thule, which has stayed in pristine condition for eons in the cold Kuiper Belt.
    "We think what we're looking at it is perhaps the most primitive object that has yet been seen by any spacecraft, and may represent a class of objects which are the oldest and most primitive objects that can be seen anywhere in the present solar system," said Jeff Moore from NASA’s Ames Research Center during a New Years Day news conference.

Read more about this fascinating story at: https://www.space.com/42878-ultima-thule-new-horizons-first-color-photo.html

Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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