First close-ups of Ultima Thule reveal it resembles snowman

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

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

The New Horizons spacecraft on Tuesday flew past Ultima Thule, which was discovered via telescope in 2014 and is the farthest and potentially oldest cosmic body ever observed by a spacecraft. New images from varying perspectives - captured as the probe moved passed the object - will bring out shadows on the object surfaces, revealing its contours more clearly.

The object looked sort of looked like a fuzzy bowling pin.

"That image is so 2018". The object has a mottled look, with the bright patches concentrated in mysterious circles while the darker areas seem more linear.

"It's only really size of something like Washington, D.C., and it's about as reflective as garden-variety dirt", he said.

'We were basically chasing it down in the dark at 32,000 miles per hour'. "[This] has set a new bar for state-of-the-art spacecraft navigation". While Earth anxiously sucks in a deep breath of anticipation, scientists have finally determined the color of Ultima Thule.

NASA launched New Horizons in 2006 when Pluto was still considered a planet. Various images which were signaled by the spaceship was studied in details by the scientists of NASA where there happened to find the asteroid is made up of two lobes or spheres which are stuck together and are gravitated towards each other. The larger, 12-mile-wide mass has been nicknamed "Ultima". Then the balls would have been gently drawn together by their mutual gravitational attraction, he said.

So far, scientists have learned that Ultima is red, with a rotational period of roughly 15 hours. "We are seeing a physical representation of the beginning of planetary formation, frozen in time", said Jeff Moore, New Horizons Geology and Geophysics team lead. For now, researchers have plenty of Ultima Thule data to decipher.

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Another round of imagery and data was received today and will be the focus of a news conference on Thursday.

With such a bland designation, astronomers came up with a very interesting name for this tiny object: "Ultima Thule", a Latin metaphor for a place that is beyond the borders of the known world.

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

The first color image of Ultima Thule.

"Just because some bad guys once liked that term", he said, "we're not going to let them hijack it".

The longevity of New Horizon's plutonium battery may even allow it to record its exit from the Solar System. "Being scientists, we not all that creative with words", Stern said. Scientists have had to wait for the data to come back, a slow process that will continue in the days and months ahead.

New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern (centre) of the Southwest Research Institute celebrates the breakthrough with other mission team members. The name, he said, "is a wonderful meme for exploration, and that's why we chose it". "Ultima is unique", Stern said. In this peripheral layer of icy bodies and leftover fragments from the solar system's creation, the interplanetary probe will position its seven on-board instruments for the first close-up glance of Ultima Thule, a cool mass roughly 20 miles (32 km) long and shaped like a giant peanut.

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