Ultima Thule: Clearest image yet of 'snowman' space rock released by NASA

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

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Just over a day after NASA's New Horizons spacecraft zipped by Ultima Thule, scientists have revealed their preliminary findings of the distant object.

Scientists are keen to study Ultima Thule as it lives in a region that has been relatively untouched since the formation of the solar system, which in turn helps them better understand planetary formation.

"This flyby is a historic achievement", Alan Stern, New Horizons Principal Investigator said.

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"I'm here to tell you that last night, overnight, the United States spacecraft New Horizons conducted the farthest exploration in the history of humankind, and did so spectacularly".

New Horizons, which left Earth 13 years ago and performed an exploratory flyby of Pluto in 2015, will continue probing the Kuiper Belt for more data until at least 2021, when current funding for the mission runs out.

They said it the image showed "the first contact binary ever explored by spacecraft". The New Horizons team has named the individual lobes, calling the smaller one Thule and the larger one Ultima.

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Another possibility is Ultima could be two objects orbiting each other.

"New Horizons is like a time machine, taking us back to the birth of the solar system". So, prepared to be wowed by higher-resolution photos in the coming days and weeks.

Ultima Thule, as the small, icy object has been dubbed, is an elongated body about 31 kilometres long, consisting of two fused-together spheres.

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The main priorities for the research is mapping Ultima Thule's surface, as well as looking for any potential moons and rings. The area begins just beyond the orbit of Neptune, more than 4.4 billion kilometres from the sun, and is believed to extend to about eight billion kilometres from the sun. 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. "We are seeing a physical representation of the beginning of planetary formation, frozen in time". A second batch of photos released Wednesday was more clear, prompting mission scientists to narrow their description from "bowling pin" to "snowman", AP reports.

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