NASA's New Horizons probe has just shown the clearest picture of the snowman-shaped Ultima Thule, the farthest object in the solar system we've studied at close range.
The Earthlings have received another fantastic take on the "space snowman".
This image, taken during the historic New York January 1 flyby of space rock Ultima Thule, is "the clearest view yet of this remarkable ancient object in the vastness of the solar system," the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory said in a statement.
Ultima Thule consists of two fused balls, one of which is three times larger than the other and about 20 miles long. The larger one is "Ultima", while the smaller one is "Thule".
When the photo is turned to the side, the object is similar to a snowman. Although the New Horizons spacecraft passed the rock on January 1, images captured on that day will continue to be received and processed.
"This new image is slowly showing differences in the geological character of Ultima Thule's two rags, and also presents new secrets," said Alan Stern from the Southwest Research Institute.
NASA's Ames Research Center scientist Jeff Moore said the two spheres formed when small, icy pieces united in space billions of years ago. Then the balls slowly twisted together and stuck together.
Gravity holds the two rocks together, NASA said.
Its remarkable appearance, unlike anything seen so far, illuminates the processes that built our Solar System 4 and 4 half a billion years ago.
The new image clearly shows craters and pits on the rock about 1 billion kilometers from Pluto. This makes it the farthest object ever visited by a spaceship.
Ultima Thule was first discovered in 2014 by astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope with the invalid official name "2014 MU69".
NASA said the nickname Ultima Thule means "beyond the confines of the known world."
"Next month, there will be better color images and higher resolution images that we hope will solve the many mysteries of Ultima Thule." Stern said.
New Horizons continues to swim away from the Sun (and Ultima Thule) at more than 31,500 miles per hour
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