Mysterious space object Ultima Thule looks a ‘giant pancake’ and NASA isn’t sure why


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Sorry, Ultima Thule: no corn cob pipe or button nostril for you.

After initially pondering it appeared like a reddish snowman, due to its two elements, the icy object often known as Ultima Thule has “melted” into “large pancake” and “a dented walnut,” NASA mentioned in an announcement on Saturday.

“The primary close-up photographs of Ultima Thule – with its two distinct and, apparently, spherical segments – had observers calling it a ‘snowman,'” the federal government house company mentioned. “Nevertheless, extra evaluation of strategy photographs and these new departure photographs have modified that view, partly by revealing an overview of the portion of the KBO that was not illuminated by the Solar, however may very well be ‘traced out’ because it blocked the view to background stars.”


Fourteen newly launched photographs present that the article is considerably flatter than beforehand thought, mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of Southwest Analysis Institute mentioned.

“We had an impression of Ultima Thule based mostly on the restricted variety of photographs returned within the days across the flyby, however seeing extra information has considerably modified our view,” Stern mentioned within the assertion. “It will be nearer to actuality to say Ultima Thule’s form is flatter, like a pancake. However extra importantly, the brand new photographs are creating scientific puzzles about how such an object might even be shaped. We have by no means seen one thing like this orbiting the Solar.”

Scientists' understanding of Ultima Thule has changed as they review additional data. As more data were analyzed, including several highly evocative crescent images taken nearly 10 minutes after closest approach, a "new view" of the object's shape emerged. Ultima more closely resembles a "pancake," and Thule a "dented walnut." (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

Scientists’ understanding of Ultima Thule has modified as they overview extra information. As extra information have been analyzed, together with a number of extremely evocative crescent photographs taken practically 10 minutes after closest strategy, a “new view” of the article’s form emerged. Ultima extra carefully resembles a “pancake,” and Thule a “dented walnut.” (Credit score: NASA/Johns Hopkins College Utilized Physics Laboratory/Southwest Analysis Institute)

In early January, the $720 million New Horizons mission captured footage of Ultima Thule. Ultima Thule is deep inside the so-called Kuiper Belt, or Twilight Zone, properly past the orbit of Neptune.

Scientists have additionally mentioned not too long ago that they haven’t but discovered any proof of an environment on UItima Thule. Preliminary information evaluation has additionally uncovered no proof of rings or satellites bigger than 1 mile in diameter orbiting Ultima Thule.

In 2015, New Horizons efficiently flew previous Pluto, which revealed that the dwarf planet is surprisingly various, reported. Ultima Thule is roughly four.1 billion miles from Earth and about 1 billion miles previous Pluto, making it essentially the most distant celestial object ever explored.


Regardless of its lack of resemblance to Frosty or every other snowman for that matter, Ultima Thule continues to amaze scientists.

“This actually is an unimaginable picture sequence, taken by a spacecraft exploring a small world 4 billion miles away from Earth,” Stern added. “Nothing fairly like this has ever been captured in imagery.”


Although it can take roughly 20 months for New Horizons to get all of its footage, measurements and different scientific information again residence to Earth, the newly launched photographs are positive to “encourage new theories of planetesimal formation within the early photo voltaic system,” Hal Weaver, New Horizons undertaking scientist from the Johns Hopkins Utilized Physics Laboratory, mentioned.

Fox Information’ James Rogers contributed to this report.

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