The distant (486958) 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule, made historical past on New Yr’s Day for turning into the farthest object ever visited by a spacecraft. Because it’s located within the Kuiper Belt about 4.1 billion miles from Earth, there’s a lot about MU69 that scientists are nonetheless studying. Now, new photographs have raised much more questions concerning the mysterious object.
So little was recognized about MU69 previous to the flyby that NASA was not sure whether or not it was a single object or, actually, two objects orbiting round one another. Scientists found its snowman-like construction after New Horizons started sending photographs to us right here on Earth. On Friday, NASA launched a video compiled utilizing greater than a dozen photographs that present Ultima Thule may very well be, uh, a lot flatter than initially thought.
The photographs have been captured Jan. 1, greater than 5,000 miles past MU69 after New Horizons zoomed previous it. In response to NASA, scientists have been in a position to deduce its form by “tracing” the a part of these photographs that blocked out stars within the background on the facet that wasn’t clearly outlined by the Solar.
One lobe appears sort of like an oddly formed “walnut,” the company stated, whereas the opposite facet appears like extra a “pancake.”
“We had an impression of MU69 primarily based on the restricted variety of photographs returned within the days across the flyby, however seeing extra knowledge has considerably modified our view,” mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Analysis Institute, stated in a assertion.
“It could be nearer to actuality to say MU69’s form is flatter, like a pancake,” Stern added. “However extra importantly, the brand new photographs are creating scientific puzzles about how such an object might even be fashioned. We’ve by no means seen one thing like this orbiting the Solar.”
Whereas NASA’s New Horizons zipped by MU69 over a month in the past, NASA scientists will proceed receiving knowledge concerning the object nicely over a yr from now. (Preliminary estimations across the time of its flyby stated it will take about 20 months for the spacecraft to beam again the complete load of photographs and different scientific knowledge.) And as Stern stated again in January, knowledge “will simply get higher and higher!”