NASA has released the first high-definition images of Ultima Thule, the most distant object in our solar system ever explored. Let’s break that down really quick: we now have real clear photographs of a celestial body some 1.5 billion kilometres further out than Pluto, taken by a probe travelling at 51,000kmh in really dim conditions.
And the thing looks like the old MSN Messenger logo.
THIS is #UltimaThule.
The image taken by @NASANewHorizons – shown in its original version (left) & sharpened version (on right) – is the most detailed image of the farthest object ever explored by a spacecraft. https://t.co/gItPsMvbPC @NASA pic.twitter.com/i7rDBURNrw
— Johns Hopkins APL (@JHUAPL) January 2, 2019
John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, the folks responsible for ensuring the New Horizons probe shot past Ultima Thule at just the right time, said the images provide new insight into how planets are formed.
Ultima Thule’s unique, lumpy appearance was achieved when two chunks of matter collided at extremely slow speed – perhaps even as slow as as two cars nudging together, the team states. Both bits eventually congealed to create the snowman-shaped object now orbiting the Sun in the distant Kuiper belt.
#UltimaThule used to be 2 separate objects. It likely formed over time as a rotating cloud of small, icy bodies started to combine. Eventually, 2 larger bodies remained & slowly spiraled closer until they touched, forming the bi-lobed object we see today: https://t.co/ZuxLDtzW9c pic.twitter.com/FwWDAaAdey
— NASA (@NASA) January 2, 2019
New Horizons will send back data pertaining to Ultima Thule’s geology, composition, and potential atmospheric conditions, providing a nifty look at a 31-km-long proto-planetoid and hopefully answering a few questions about how the larger masses in our solar system came to be.
That data will be sent back over the next year and a half, because the mobile reception isn’t exactly great on the further reaches of our solar system. And yes, higher resolution images are expected, hopefully confirming Ultima Thule really does look like a giant misshapen Nerd fished from the bottom of the box.