New Horizons Reveals Ultima Thule

Listen to New Horizons, Brian May's first solo single in 20 years

As for its shape, scientists say there are two possibilities. Two black-and-white pictures were released, with a resolution as fine as 140 meters (460 feet) per pixel. It sort of looked like a fuzzy bowling pin then.

"That image is so 2018". "It's only really (the) size of something like Washington, D.C., and it's about as reflective as garden-variety dirt", he said.

Ultima Thule's unique, lumpy appearance was achieved when two chunks of matter collided at extremely slow speed - perhaps even as slow as as two cars nudging together, the team states.

The latest images of Ultima Thule were taken from about 17,000 miles out, showing a formation that end to end measures about 19 miles in length, and has a rotation period of 15 hours, plus or minus an hour.

The object itself is as dark as potting soil, said Cathy Olkin, deputy project scientist from the Southwest Research Institute.

"The spacecraft is in peak health", said Stern. The object consists of two fused-together spheres, one three times bigger than the other. The smaller one, which is 9 miles across, is "Thule".

The same kind of accretion process produced the other moons and planets of the solar system around 4.5 billion years ago, says Jeff Moore, a co-investigator on NASA's New Horizons mission. "What we're looking at is basically the first planetesimals", Moore said.

Now, as scientists begin studying the very first tidbits of information gathered by New Horizons we're learning a whole lot more about the rock.

The best summary of this day came from a team slide: "Think of New Horizons as a time machine that has brought us back to the very beginning of the solar system, to a place where we can observe the most primordial building blocks of the planets".

"This mission's always been about delayed gratification", Stern reminded reporters. Some of the data acquired by New Horizons might shed light on that.

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Though Ultima Thule formed a long time ago, it remains pristine, seemingly unmarked by craters.

In response to a reporter's question, Stern addressed the controversy head-on.

The last time we saw Utlima Thule, it was a blur against the blackness of space, something not almost convincing enough of its existence.

Cheers erupted in the control center and in a nearby auditorium, where hundreds more - still tired from the double countdowns on New Year's Eve - gathered to await word.

Before that, scientists only had a blurry image of the body and thought it was composed of two more elongated parts - resembling something more like a peanut or bowling pin.

The MU69 story is only starting to unfold, Stern added.

It'll take another 20 months to download all the data from the Ultima flyby.

He also addressed a controversy over the nickname that the New Horizons team had chosen.

What's so special about the Kuiper belt?

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