Scientists Surprised by Ultima Thule: Its Flat Like a Pancake

"We've Never Seen Something Like This Orbiting The Sun"

Scientists have said that they’ve never seen anything like it orbiting the sun.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has been traveling further away from the sun as it passed near Ultima Thule on New Year’s Day.

Since the spacecraft is located so far away from the sun, at the outermost edges of the solar system, receiving data the spacecraft is sending home takes a lot of time.

The first images we received from the New Horizons spacecraft showed Ultimate Thule as being a strange Snowman-like cosmic body orbiting the sun.

However, that’s not the case.

New Horizons took this image of the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 (nicknamed Ultima Thule) on Jan. 1, 2019, when the NASA spacecraft was 5,494 miles (8,862 kilometers) beyond it. The image to the left is an "average" of ten images taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI); the crescent is blurred in the raw frames because a relatively long exposure time was used during this rapid scan to boost the camera’s si'gnal level. Mission scientists have been able to process the image, removing the motion blur to produce a sharper, brighter view of Ultima Thule's thin crescent. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/National Optical Astronomy Observatory
New Horizons took this image of the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 (nicknamed Ultima Thule) on Jan. 1, 2019, when the NASA spacecraft was 5,494 miles (8,862 kilometers) beyond it. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/National Optical Astronomy Observatory

New images beamed back by the spacecraft have taken experts by surprise who have revealed they’ve never seen anything like it orbiting the sun.

Speaking out about Ultimate Thule, NASA wrote in a statement: “The first close-up images of Ultima Thule – with its two distinct and, apparently, spherical segments – had observers calling it a snowman.”

“However, more analysis of approach images and these new departure images have changed that view, in part by revealing an outline of the portion of the KBO that was not illuminated by the Sun, but could be “traced out” as it blocked the view to background stars.”

Instead of two spherical bodies ‘glued’ together, ultima Thule loos more like pancake glued to a larger one.

“Stringing 14 of these images into a short departure movie, New Horizons scientists can confirm that the two sections (or “lobes”) of Ultima Thule are not spherical. The larger lobe, nicknamed “Ultima,” more closely resembles a giant pancake and the smaller lobe, nicknamed “Thule,” is shaped like a dented walnut,” NASA revealed.

Here’s what we thought Ultima Thule looked like, and what it actually looks like, according to NASA.

 

Image Credit: NASA.
Image Credit: NASA.

According to principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, “We’ve never seen something like this orbiting the Sun.”

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