'Snowman' shape of distant Ultima Thule revealed

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

This are only the first images from the probe, captured at a resolution of about 140 meters per pixel.

The initial images reveal two conjoined spherical lobes, what planetary scientists call a contact binary, that is already being likened to a dusky, celestial snowman. The larger of the pair, which scientists named Ultima, is three times bigger than the smaller one, dubbed Thule.

He said the spacecraft "is like a time machine, taking us back to the birth of the solar system".

"Meet #UltimaThule! What you're seeing is the 1st contact binary ever explored by a spacecraft", tweeted Nasa.

The object is so old and pristine that it's essentially like going back in time to the beginning of our solar system.

Ultima orbits the Sun in a region of the Solar System known as the Kuiper belt.

The colour of the object is now confirmed as red. He said Ultima Thule was selected as 2014 MU69's informal nickname because its ancient meaning provided a "wonderful meme for exploration".

However, more will be revealed as more data comes in.

The images have been taken from as close as 17,000 miles, though it will take days for the high-resolution photos to be uploaded to Earth, given the bandwidth limitations of moving data across the span of the entire solar system.

Some 4.5 billion years ago a cloud of frozen pebbles began to join forces, gradually forming two bodies - Ultima and Thule.

And New Horizons' mission isn't over, Stern said.

This lends support to a theory of planet formation that holds that planets are formed by a gentle accumulation of cosmic objects, rather than through catastrophic collisions between them.

Moore said "we're basically looking at the first planetesimals", which served as building blocks for what would eventually become planets.

For more on New Horizons and its historic journey through the Solar System, watch "Pluto and Beyond", premiering tonight at 9 p.m. ET / 8 p.m CT on PBS.

The body is roughly 19 miles long and completes its own rotation in about 15 hours.

The object itself is as dark as potting soil, said Cathy Olkin, deputy project scientist from the Southwest Research Institute.

"We have far less than 1 percent of the data that's stored aboard the solid state recorders", says Alan Stern, principal investigator of NASA's New Horizons mission.

A Google search for "Ultima Thule" found not just references to the Kuiper Belt object and the mission but also a lodge in Alaska, Finnish glassware and an Australian radio show, among other citations.

Stereo analysis and subsequent imaging will be available soon.

The close approach came a half-hour into the new year, and 3 ½ years after New Horizons' unprecedented swing past Pluto.

Although NASA's Voyagers crossed the Kuiper Belt on their way to true interstellar space, their 1970s-era instruments were not almost as sophisticated as those on New Horizons, Weaver noted, and the twin spacecraft did not pass near any objects known at the time.

Recommended News

We are pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news.
Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper.
Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.