New Ultima Thule Discoveries from NASA’s New Horizons

The New Horizons science team created the first stereo image pair of Ultima Thule. This image can be viewed with stereo glasses to reveal the Kuiper Belt object’s three-dimensional shape. The images that created the stereo pair were taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) at 4:23 and 5:01 Universal Time on January 1, 2019 from respective ranges of 38,000 miles (61,000 kilometers) and 17,000 miles (28,000 kilometers), with respective original scales of 1017 feet (310 meters) and 459 feet (140 meters) per pixel.(Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — Data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which explored Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule earlier this week, is yielding scientific discoveries daily. Among the findings made by the mission science team in the past day are:

  • Initial data analysis has found no evidence of rings or satellites larger than one mile in diameter orbiting Ultima Thule.
  • Data analysis has also not yet found any evidence of an atmosphere.
  • The color of Ultima Thule matches the color of similar worlds in the Kuiper Belt, as determined by telescopic measurements.
  • The two lobes of Ultima Thule — the first Kuiper Belt contact binary visited — are nearly identical in color. This matches what we know about binary systems which haven’t come into contact with each other, but rather orbit around a shared point of gravity.

“The first exploration of a small Kuiper Belt object and the most distant exploration of any world in history is now history, but almost all of the data analysis lies in the future,” said Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Data transmission from New Horizons will pause for about a week while the spacecraft passes behind the sun as seen from here on Earth. Data transmission resumes Jan. 10, starting a 20-month download of the spacecraft’s remaining scientific treasures.

“Those of us on the science team can’t wait to begin to start digging into that treasure trove,” said Stern. New Horizons completed the farthest flyby in history when it came within about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) of Ultima Thule at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1, zooming past the object at more than 32,000 miles (51,000 kilometers) per hour.

In this animated GIF of Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule made from two images taken 38 minutes apart, the “Thule” lobe is closest to the New Horizons spacecraft. As Ultima Thule is seen to rotate, hints of the topography can be perceived. The images were taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) at 4:23 and 5:01 Universal Time on January 1, 2019 from respective ranges of 38,000 miles (61,000 kilometers) and 17,000 miles (28,000 kilometers), with respective original scales of 1017 feet (310 meters) and 459 feet (140 meters) per pixel. (Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute, based in San Antonio, leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtags #UltimaThule, #UltimaFlyby and #askNewHorizons to join the conversation. Live updates and links to mission information are also available on http://pluto.jhuapl.edu and www.nasa.gov.

  • SamuelRoman13

    I wonder why they are round? I thought that objects had to be melted to a liquid to become round. Like Earth. Maybe they spun in many different directions? Maybe it formed near the Sun and was liquid, then migrated outward. It looks like a jumble of rocks though. Not one piece hit many times. Applies to both.

  • Jacob Samorodin

    Queen’s guitarist, Brian May PhD, made that stereoscopic image.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Round? Look more carefully

  • Malatrope

    Why are they even looking for evidence of an atmosphere? The thing hasn’t got enough gravity to overcome even the slowest gas molecule’s motion, even close to absolute zero. A dust cloud, perhaps, but not an atmosphere. (Unless they’ve changed the definition again, as they seem to like to do. Pluto is a planet, dammit 🙂

  • Paul451

    Why are they even looking for evidence of an atmosphere?

    To see if it’s outgassing like a comet.

  • Malatrope

    Ok, I can understand that, but I wouldn’t call that an atmosphere, I would call that a jet on the way to deep space.

  • SamuelRoman13

    The 2 elements look round to me. Just extend the outline in all directions. I doubt that they are flat.

  • SamuelRoman13

    http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=52117
    Another space object of interest. I like the erosion theory. Like the Voyager clone. I am going home. I am not going to let a few space objects stop me. No sign of a spaceship, but since everything is the same in the Universe it was not made of anything unusual. Would an abundance of AL show a spaceship? Of course magnetic AL so those boots would work. 12B years or so is a long time to wander. Some wear is expected.

  • SamuelRoman13

    Too far out to look like a comet. Too cold. Triton had

    geysers. I don’t remember why. Nitrogen.