Nasa’s New Hori­zons: Space Snow­man ap­pears squashed

Newly re­leased im­ages also con­tain im­por­tant sci­en­tific in­for­ma­tion

The Asian Age - - Newsmakers -

Washington: Nasa’s New Hori­zons space­craft has beamed back new im­ages of Ul­tima Thule, which show that the most dis­tant world ever ex­plored is much flat­ter than pre­vi­ously thought.

The im­ages of the KBO — of­fi­cially named 2014 MU69 — were cap­tured by the New Hori­zons as it raced away at over 50,000 kilo­me­ters per hour on Jan­uary 1.

The im­ages were taken nearly 10 min­utes af­ter New Hori­zons crossed its clos­est ap­proach point. “This re­ally is an in­cred­i­ble im­age se­quence, taken by a space­craft ex­plor­ing a small world four bil­lion miles away from Earth,” said mis­sion prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor Alan Stern, of South­west Re­search In­sti­tute in the US.

“Noth­ing quite like this has ever been cap­tured in im­agery,” said Stern.

The newly re­leased im­ages also con­tain im­por­tant sci­en­tific in­for­ma­tion about the shape of Ul­tima Thule, which is turn­ing out to be one of the ma­jor dis­cov­er­ies from the flyby.

The first close- up im­ages of Ul­tima Thule — with its two dis­tinct and, ap­par­ently, spher­i­cal seg­ments — had ob­servers call­ing it a

◗ The im­ages were taken nearly 10 min­utes af­ter New Hori­zons crossed its clos­est ap­proach point. This re­ally is an in­cred­i­ble im­age se­quence, taken by a space­craft ex­plor­ing a small world four bil­lion miles away from Earth, said a re­searcher here.

“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.

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.

“We had an imp- res­sion of Ul­tima Thule based on the lim­ited num­ber of im­ages re­turned in the days around the flyby, but see­ing more data has sig­nif­i­cantly changed our view. It would be closer to re­al­ity to say Ul­tima Thule’s shape is flat­ter, like a pan­cake,” Stern said.

Ul­tima Thule

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