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

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

This composite image made available by NASA shows the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed "Ultima Thule", indicated by the crosshairs at center, with stars surrounding it made by the New Horizons spacecraft, on August 16, 2018.

"I think we should think of New Horizons as a time machine, a way-back machine set to time zero, that's brought us back to the very beginning of solar system history to the place where we can observe the most primordial building blocks of the planets".

This three-panel drawing depicts the likely scenario for how 2014 MU69 formed, as two different, gravitationally-bound objects formed from solar system debris, and then slowly spiraled in to eventually touch. Flyby data have already solved one of Ultima's mysteries, showing that the Kuiper Belt object is spinning like a propeller with the axis pointing approximately toward New Horizons. NASA said during today's press conference that better lighting and closer proximity to the target will result in much improved images.

Included in this will be a series of much higher-resolution images that will provide an even greater look at Ultima Thule, now the farthest object from Earth to ever be photographed by a spacecraft.

Both spheres are similar in color, while the barely perceptible neck connecting the two lobes is noticeably less red, probably because of particles falling down the steep slopes into that area.

After the news conference, Stern told GeekWire that Ultima Thule and other nicknames relating to 2014 MU69's features would give way to formal names to be approved by the International Astronomical Union, but it's too early to say which names would be submitted to the IAU by the New Horizons discovery team.

They said it the image showed "the first contact binary ever explored by spacecraft".

The images we have of the object now show no obvious impact craters, but there are hills and ridges.

And as far as distant asteroids go, it's hard to do better than Ultima Thule.

Congo election unrest spikes; European Union ambassador ordered to leave
The protesters had gathered in Beni, capital of the North Kivu province, to demonstrate against the postponement of elections. Some protesters set up blazing street barricades and attacked an Ebola isolation center, with almost 20 patients fleeing.

NASA now expects New Horizons' mission in the Kuiper Belt to run through 2021 at least.

However, more will be revealed as more data comes in. 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 new image also resolved the debate about the nature of Ultima Thule.

New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern (centre) of the Southwest Research Institute celebrates the breakthrough with other mission team members.

"Just because some bad guys once liked that term, we're not going to let 'em hijack it", Stern said. Stern said the spacecraft will resume transmitting in mid-January.

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

New Horizons rocketed from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2006.

As Helene Winters, New Horizons' Project Manager, indicated, it won't stop there.


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