NASA New Horizons image shows weird Ultima Thule looks like a snowman

Here's Our First Image Of Ultima Thule, The 'Most Distant Object Ever Visited By A Spacecraft' - Digg

"This mission has always been about delayed gratification", Stern said on Tuesday. This union was not violent; the two bodies came together at about walking speed, in a meetup more akin to a spacecraft docking than to a collision, said Jeff Moore of NASA's Ames Research Center, the leader of New Horizons' geology and geophysics team.

Ultima Thule is one of hundreds of thousands of space rock in the uncharted heart of the Kuiper Belt, a ring of icy celestial bodies just outside Neptune's orbit.

But two new images of the Kuiper Belt world taken from a no-closer distance of 50,000 km by New Horizons reveal 2014 MU69 to be a contact binary, meaning it is composed of two spherical objects that formed separately before gently easing together to form the object we see today. "We are seeing a physical representation of the beginning of planetary formation, frozen in time".

"Studying Ultima Thule is helping us understand how planets form - both those in our own solar system and those orbiting other stars in our galaxy", Moore said.

The larger sphere is "Ultima" and measures 19 kilometres across. After it coasted through, NASA selected Ultima Thule as the next observational target and set a course. Despite its long journey, the spacecraft is still chugging along and could potentially break through the belt to join NASA's Voyager and Pioneer spacecraft outside our solar system-if the mission is renewed, Space reports. The researchers learned that the unexpectedly low variation in the light curve came from the shape-two spheres rotating have a smaller change in their surface area from the spacecraft's point of view than an ellipse would.

So far, scientists have learned that Ultima is red, with a rotational period of roughly 15 hours.

The ice world also is a relatively dark object, reflecting very little light. It was the furthest world humankind has ever explored in space.

The panchromatic and color images of 2014 MU69. This explains why, in earlier images taken before Ultima was resolved, its brightness didn't appear to vary as it rotated.

Additional information will be released at 14:00 EST (1900 UTC) Thursday, 3 January 2019 by the New Horizons team.

Ultima Thule has a mottled appearance the colour of boring brick.

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