NASA’s faraway space snowman has flat, not round, behind

Author: 
AP
ID: 
1549941065549184100
Mon, 2019-02-11 19:36

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: The faraway space snowman visited by
NASA last month has a surprisingly flat — not round —
behind.
New photos from the New Horizons spacecraft offer a new perspective
on the small cosmic body 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers)
away. The two-lobed object, nicknamed Ultima Thule, is actually
flatter on the backside than originally thought, according to
scientists.
Pictures released late last week — taken shortly after closest
approach on New Year’s Day — provide an outline of the side not
illuminated by the sun.
When viewed from the front, Ultima Thule still resembles a two-ball
snowman. But from the side , the snowman looks squashed, sort of
like a lemon and pie stuck together, end to end.
“Seeing more data has significantly changed our view,”
Southwest Research Institute’s Alan Stern, the lead scientist,
said in a statement. “It would be closer to reality to say Ultima
Thule’s shape is flatter, like a pancake. But more importantly,
the new images are creating scientific puzzles about how such an
object could even be formed. We’ve never seen something like this
orbiting the sun.”
Project scientist Hal Weaver of Johns Hopkins University, home to
New Horizons flight control center, said the finding should spark
new theories on how such primitive objects formed early in the
solar system.
Ultima Thule — considered a contact binary — is the most
distant world ever explored. New Horizons zipped past it at high
speed, after becoming the first visitor to Pluto in 2015. Mission
managers hope to target an even more distant celestial object in
this so-called Kuiper Belt, on the frozen fringes of the solar
system, if the spacecraft remains healthy.
New Horizons is already 32 million miles (52 million kilometers)
beyond Ultima Thule. It will take another 1 ½ years to beam back
all the flyby data.
The spacecraft rocketed from Florida in 2006.

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NASA’s faraway space snowman has flat, not round, behind