Tech: New Ultima Thule discoveries from NASA's New Horizons

A stereo image of MU69 aka Ultima Thule.        
      NASA  Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory  Southwest Research Institute

NASA got the first pictures from the interplanetary probe, New Horizons, has successfully flown past the most remote of the known objects in the Solar system.

At a news conference in Laurel on Thursday, scientists and others put on 3D glasses to see the two-sphered cosmic body in stereo, revealing possible curvy ridges.

Before that flyby, the only image scientists had was a blurry one showing Ultima Thule's oblong shape, resembling something like a bowling pin or a peanut.

Some 4 billion miles from Earth, New Horizons came within about 2,200 miles of Ultima Thule when it zoomed past the icy object at 32,000 mph on New Year's day.

"In the coming months, New Horizons will transmit dozens of data sets to Earth, and we'll write new chapters in the story of Ultima Thule-and the solar system", Helene Winters, New Horizons project manager, said in the statement.

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"The Prize! For those of us who waited with bated breath for the Ultimate Stereo of Ultima Thule. here it is!" tweeted May.

The US probe's images acquired as it approached Ultima hinted at the possibility of a double body, but the first detailed picture from Tuesday's close flyby confirms it. He suspects there might be at least a couple moons a few hundred miles (kilometers) out. Satellites are a common way for scientists to learn about the mass and density of the worlds they orbit, which can reveal important details about their composition and interior.

Ultima Thule's surface reflects light about as much as 'garden variety dirt, ' he said, as the sun's rays are 1,600 times fainter there than on Earth. The data covering that area are still aboard the spacecraft, he noted. All of the data from the flyby will take 20 entire months to reach the Earth, so we're going to be in for around two years of new discoveries about this odd, distant world.

The New Horizons spacecraft, designed and built by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, was launched in January 2006 with the aim of exploring Pluto and the Kuiper belt region. It will keep pressing farther out, observing other objects from afar, and measuring dust and particles. He acknowledged its current nickname may wind up on the short list. Its color is mostly red, though, according to Carly Howett from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI).

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