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New Picture Of Ultima Thule Exhibits Object's Pancake-Like Form

New Picture Of Ultima Thule Exhibits Object's Pancake-Like Form

New images and video released this week from the New Horizons' probe show a dramatically different view of Ultima Thule, revealing an unexpectedly flatter shape than earlier images presented last month seemed to suggest.

'But more importantly, the new images are creating scientific puzzles about how such an object could even be formed.

It is safe to say the new apparent shape of Ultima Thule will only increase the interest of scientists studying this object-humans have never observed an object like this in the distant Kuiper Belt so closely before.

Stringing 14 of these pictures into a short flight film, New Horizons researchers can affirm that the two areas (or "flaps") of Ultima Thule are not spherical.

'We had an impression of Ultimate Thule based on the limited number of images returned in the days around the flyby, but seeing more data has significantly changed our view, ' Stern said.

Now, it can be confirmed that the two sections of Ultima Thule are not spherical like a snowman, but rather like a giant pancake connected to a smaller, dented walnut.

NASA scientists shared the 3D animation of the space rock's shape below, which was created using images that New Horizons captured as it left MU69 behind. We've never seen something like this orbiting the sun'.

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"Nothing quite like this has ever been captured in imagery", said Stern.

This interpretation is evident from the data acquired by the Nasa spacecraft when it looked back at icy Ultima Thule as it zoomed past at 50,000km/h. A relatively long exposure time was used to maximise the camera's signal level at the expense of some blurring of the KBO's crescent.

At first, Ultima Thule appeared as a blurry, snowman-shaped smudge in the blackness of space. By noting which of these stars went dark as Ultima blocked them out, mission scientists were able to map out the object's (surprisingly flat) shape.

It turns out 2014 MU69-the most distant entity ever explored-is less of a plump snowman, and more of a deflated Christmas lawn ornament. As it's situated in the Kuiper Belt about 4.1 billion miles from Earth, there's much about MU69 that scientists are still learning.

As the world rang in the beginning of 2019 on 1 January, researchers at NASA were keeping an eye on the New Horizons spacecraft for what would prove to be a defining moment in its multi-year mission. By watching which ones "blinked out" as Ultima passed in front of them, the scientists were able to outline the object's unusual shape.

New Horizons then set out an extended mission, which centered on a close flyby of Ultima Thule, which is officially known as 2014 MU69. Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, said: "This will undoubtedly motivate new theories of planetesimal formation in the early solar system".