New Horizons' latest images from Ultima Thule reveal new details -
New Horizons' latest images from Ultima Thule reveal new details
Posted 28 Jan 2019 12:37 PM

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has beamed back the clearest view yet of the most distant object ever explored - the Kuiper Belt object (KBO) 2014 MU69 nicknamed Ultima Thule."The new image, taken during the historic flyby is the clearest view yet of this remarkable, ancient object in the far reaches of the solar system - and the first small 'KBO' ever explored by a spacecraft," NASA said in a statement.

The image, obtained with the wide-angle Multicolour Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) component of New Horizon's Ralph instrument, was taken when the KBO was 6,700 km from the spacecraft, at 12.26 am on January 1 - just seven minutes before closest approach.On January 1, the spacecraft zipped past the ancient Ultima Thule, setting the record for flyby of the most distant planetary object in history.

1. The oblique lighting of the image reveals new topographic details - numerous small pits up to about 0.7 km in diameter - along the day or night boundary, or terminator, near the top.

2. The large circular feature, about 4 miles (7 kilometers) across, on the smaller of the two lobes, also appears to be a deep depression.

3. However, it is not clear whether these pits are impact craters or features resulting from other processes, such as 'collapse pits' or the ancient venting of volatile materials, NASA said.

4. Both lobes also show many intriguing light and dark patterns of unknown origin, which may reveal clues about how this body was assembled during the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago.

5. One of the most striking of these is the bright 'collar' separating the two lobes.

"Over the next month there will be better colour and better resolution images that we hope will help unravel the many mysteries of Ultima Thule," Stern added.

New Horizons is approximately 6.64 billion kilometres from Earth, operating normally and speeding away from the Sun (and Ultima Thule) at more than 50,700 km per hour.

1. In 1992, Dave Jewitt and Jane Luu at the University of Hawaii discovered a small object, designated 1992QB1, orbiting the Sun beyond Neptune at a distance of about 40 astronomical unit (AU).

2. Since then, more than 3,100 similar objects with orbits beyond Neptune have been discovered, and scientists estimate there are several hundred thousand objects bigger than 20 miles across, waiting to be discovered in that vast region of the solar system.

3. NASA calls this swarm of bodies the Kuiper Belt, in honor of Dutch-American astronomer Gerard Kuiper, who speculated about the existence of small bodies beyond Neptune in the 1950s.

4. The inhabitants of this realm are called Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) or simply Trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs).

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