Saturday, February 9, 2019

New Horizons Takes a Valuable Parting Glance at Ultima Thule

Article Written By: Kyle Tam


   Scientists have released a new image sequence from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft offering a farewell glance of the Kuiper Belt object known as Ultima Thule. Although they are not the final images of the object to be sent back from the spacecraft, these photos are in fact the final images taken before New Horizons zipped past its flyby.

   In the newly released images, scientists made an exciting discovery - Ultima Thule's shape. When first imaged, scientists and the public alike saw that Ultima Thule consisted of two distinct and spherical segments. Further analysis of the approach and departure images revealed that the asteroid is made of two distinct shape. The larger lobe, nicknamed "Ultima" resembles the shape of a giant pancake while the smaller lobe, "Thule", is shaped more like a dented walnut.

    “We had an impression of Ultima Thule based on the limited number of images returned in the days around the flyby, but seeing more data has significantly changed our view,” said Alan Stern, mission Principal Investigator at Southwest Research Insittute. “It would be closer to reality to say Ultima Thule’s shape is flatter, like a pancake. But more importantly, the new images are creating scientific puzzles about how such an object could even be formed. We’ve never seen something like this orbiting the Sun.”
   “While the very nature of a fast flyby in some ways limits how well we can determine the true shape of Ultima Thule, the new results clearly show that Ultima and Thule are much flatter than originally believed, and much flatter than expected,” added Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. “This will undoubtedly motivate new theories of planetesimal formation in the early solar system.”
Read the full press release at: 

Image Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/National Optical Astronomy Observatory

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