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NASA unveils the secrets of Ultima Thule, the prehistoric space pancake



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NASA / Johns Hopkins University of Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute / ESA

The farthest world we've ever explored, Ultima Thule, is getting weirder ̵

1; but NASA scientists are beginning to reveal their secrets. on January 1 – about 4 billion kilometers from Earth – after a 13-year journey to the edge of the solar system. The original mission of New Horizons was to study Pluto, but after an expansion, the team at NASA and the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University sent an object much further researched from home: a small two-body space rock, the first was discovered five years ago, officially designated as MU69 2014.

Ultima Thule's unusual double-lobed form.


NASA / Johns Hopkins University of Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

On March 18, NASA held the first press conference since the flyby on January 1, and a number of researchers were available to describe the geology, origin, surface features, and unusual shape of the MU69 2014 pancake Explore the alien world in detail before on their super-short flyby and start sending data back to Earth. Since the spacecraft is located approximately 4.6 billion kilometers (about 6.6 billion kilometers) away, all the important scientific data is simply leaked back to Earth, but there is already much to do.

"The data we already have The bottom is just delicious," said Alan Stern, the senior investigator, at the press conference, "and it's really changing our ideas considerably, like small bodies of the Kuiper Belt, the building blocks

Nicknamed "Ultima Thule", a Latin phrase referring to a distant world, the unusual two-lobed rock is made up of a flat, pancake-like lobe nicknamed "Ultima" and a small, round rock nicknamed "Thule". The research team suspect that these two bodies do not always mesh, and after a slow dance in the orbital, they eventually formed into a tiny, new whole.

The slow merging of two bodies leads to the Ultima Thule, which we see today.


Derek Richardson / Julian Marcohnic / University of Maryland

"What Ultima Thule teaches us is that the formation of a binary pair that first forms as a coalescing pair and then merges into a major class matches how our entire solar system has formed," said William McKinnon Co-Investigator at Washington University.

And Ultima Thule is a true ancient relic of our solar system that gives scientists a better picture of how planets and small planetary bodies ("planetesimals") form. [19659009] But how Ultima Thule came about is not the only thing that fascinates the research team.

Although most images of Ultima Thule are black and white, the planet is technically "ultra-red." According to Carly Howlett, a member of the New Horizons science team, an "ultra-red" object was examined for the first time, raising even more questions. "The color image even reveals subtle differences in color over the surface, and we really want to know why," she said in a press release.

The entire press conference is available online and includes presentations from a number of New Horizons teams members.

The researchers will continue to explore the data that New Horizons sends back – and expect to receive the treasure chest of extraterrestrial information until at least the summer of 2020, the idea that it will receive another mission expansion and a world further afield own possibility represents.


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