NASA Releases First Close-Up Pictures of Icy Object Past Pluto

New Horizons Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory is seen before a news conference after the team received confirmation from the New Horizons spacecraft that it has completed the flyby of Ultim

New Horizons Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory is seen before a news conference after the team received confirmation from the New Horizons spacecraft that it has completed the flyby of Ultim

With this new data, NASA hopes to learn more about the formation of dwarf planets like Pluto as well as the start of the universe; Ultima Thule might not have changed much since the Big Bang days, giving us vital clues as to how our solar system formed.

The nature of New Horizons' mission provided NASA with a unique opportunity to explore more of the outer solar system after the 2015 main event.

It's an unbelievable discovery, especially considering that the possibility of Ultima Thule being a binary duo had been floated a number of times over the course of the lengthy New Horizons mission. The mission team named the larger object "Ultima" and the smaller one "Thule".

In addition to providing a clearer image of the object, the new data sent back to Earth from New Horizons has revealed significant information pointing to its origins and appearance.

Mark Showalter, a planetary astronomer at the SETI Institute and investigator on the New Horizons mission who led the naming contest, told Newsweek that Ultima Thule has a "long history" and that Nazism is not the first thing that people associate with the term, which he admits he never heard until the naming contest.

Just such a nickname - Ultima Thule (pronounced TOOL-ie), for New Horizons' recent flyby target, 2014 MU69 - stirred controversy on Twitter late last night and early today (Jan. 1 and 2).

"The bowling pin is gone".

The new colour image also revealed it to be definitively red, like the top of Pluto's moon Charon.

Eventually, these two bodies remained, slowly spiralling closer until they touched, forming Ultima Thule.

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Scientists had suspected that Ultima Thule would not be perfectly round since the summer of 2017, when a global network of observers found the rock passing in front of a distant star.

A day ago, scientists released a blurry picture of the small body also known by its official designation 2014 MU69 taken from a distance of half a million miles, taken before the flyby.

The first image (shown at top), was taken by the spacecraft's Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) at 05:01 UTC (01:01 EDT) on January 1st, 2019. The rock had no obvious impact craters.

The image shows the most detailed image of the farthest object ever explored by a spacecraft.

But even as the researchers celebrated their triumph of celestial navigation, the mission drew unwanted attention for the name Ultima Thule.

The world is in a region of the Solar System known as the Kuiper belt. The comment was greeted with applause by New Horizon team members and their supporters. But unlike the planets, which have undergone dramatic geologic change, and comets, which are heated and transformed by the sun, the Kuiper belt object has existed in a "deep freeze" since it first formed, 4.6 billion years ago.

Unlike in the inner Solar System, there are probably very few collisions between objects.

The spacecraft will continue sending images and other data over the next 20 months.

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