It’s a strange solar system out there.
The analysis of the data sent by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft of its exploratory mission of Kuiper Belt Object Ultima Thule (located more than 6 billion kilometers away from Earth) has revealed fascinating surface features.
As new data is being analyzed, scientists are coming across unexpected things.
A ‘Pancaked’ object covered in strange markings
Mission scientists exposed their unusual findings at the 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.
Ultima Thule is the first primordial contact binary explored by a spacecraft.
As New Horizons made its way towards Ultima, it captured a series of images that first revealed a snowman-like object in the distance.
As the spacecraft got closer and closer, high-resolution images were snapped and sent back to Earth.
Now, analysis of a series of images taken at a distance of approximately 3,500 kilometers from the contact binary has revealed the true shape of the object, as well as a set of curious Albedo Markings that cover its surface.
Ultima isn’t really your typical comic snowman and has been found to resemble a… well… galactic pancake.
It’s kind of flat-ish.
But in addition to that, it is covered with strange markings.
Oh and, No, it wasn’t aliens.
With a diameter of around 35 kilometers, Ultima Thule consists of a large, flat lobe (nicknamed “Ultima”) connected to a smaller round lobe (nicknamed “Thule”).
This strange form is perhaps the biggest surprise.
Stranger than Strange
“We’ve never seen anything like this anywhere in the solar system,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado.
“It is sending the planetary science community back to the drawing board to understand how planetesimals – the building blocks of the planets – form.”
Being so well preserved, Ultima Thule offers our clearest look towards the era of planetesimal accretion and the earliest stages of planetary formation. Apparently, the two lobes of Ultima Thule orbited each other in the distant past, like many of the so-called binary worlds in the Kuiper Belt, until something joined them in a “soft, and gentle fusion.”