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Ultima Thule is extra pancake than snowman, NASA scientists uncover

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Feb. 11 (UPI) — Ultima Thule is flatter than scientists initially thought.

As revealed by the newest photos captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, solely lately downloaded and analyzed by mission scientists, the Kuiper Belt object is extra pancake than snowman.

The brand new photos had been a number of the final New Horizons snapped because it zoomed previous the distant object at a velocity of 31,000 miles per hour. The brand new photographs supplied scientists a brand new perspective of the minor planet — the first contact binary to be explored by spacecraft.

By combining the views supplied by a handful of photos, scientists confirmed Ultima Thule’s two lobes aren’t spherical. They’re comparatively flat.

Scientists discovered the item’s bigger lobe is formed like a fluffy pancake, whereas the smaller of the 2 lobes recollects a “dented walnut.”

“We had an impression of Ultima Thule based mostly on the restricted variety of photos returned within the days across the flyby, however seeing extra information has considerably modified our view,” Alan Stern, principal investigator on the mission and scientist on the Southwest Analysis Institute, stated in a information launch. “It might be nearer to actuality to say Ultima Thule’s form is flatter, like a pancake. However extra importantly, the brand new photos 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.”

The brand new photos weren’t very clear. New Horizons’ digital camera was pressured to make use of an extended publicity time to seize the photographs, blurring the photographs. However NASA scientists had been in a position to sharpen the photographs.

Solely half the item’s peanut-like form is seen within the picture collection, which at first, make it tough to understand the item’s form. However by monitoring which background stars turned blocked by the darkish Kuiper Belt object, scientists had been in a position to hint the item’s define.

“Whereas the very nature of a quick flyby in some methods limits how properly we are able to decide the true form of Ultima Thule, the brand new outcomes clearly present that Ultima and Thule are a lot flatter than initially believed, and far flatter than anticipated,” stated Hal Weaver, a New Horizons venture scientist from the Johns Hopkins Utilized Physics Laboratory. “This may undoubtedly encourage new theories of planetesimal formation within the early photo voltaic system.”

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