"Ultima Thule" is photographed from the New Horizons spacecraft on January 1, 2019. It was taken from a range of 85,000 miles.  At left is an enhanced color image taken by the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera produced by combining the near infrared, red and blue channels. The center image has a higher spatial resolution than MVIC by approximately a factor of five. At right, the color has been overlaid onto the LORRI image to show the color uniformity of the Ultima and Thule lobes. The object, the most distant ever explored, is known as a "contact binary." It likely began as two separate objects that joined together over time.

"Ultima Thule" is photographed from the New Horizons spacecraft on January 1, 2019. It was taken from a range of 85,000 miles. At left is an enhanced color image taken by the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera produced by combining the near infrared, red and blue channels. The center image has a higher spatial resolution than MVIC by approximately a factor of five. At right, the color has been overlaid onto the LORRI image to show the color uniformity of the Ultima and Thule lobes. The object, the most distant ever explored, is known as a "contact binary." It likely began as two separate objects that joined together over time.

It appeared to us early on New Year’s Day.

The grainy image looked, to many, like a snowman. It came from more than a billion miles beyond Pluto. It is called 2014 MU69, or Ultima Thule.

Ultima Thule sits on the edge of the Solar System. It’s the furthest object of which scientists have been able to capture an image, and they think studying it might reveal details about the earliest moments of the universe, due to its position inside the Kuiper Belt.

From The New York Times:

Planetary scientists are intrigued by the region known as the Kuiper belt — the home of Ultima Thule and other objects — because it is perhaps the only place where some of the solar system’s earliest building blocks are preserved.

The lack of sharp corners and apparently smooth surface of Ultima Thule suggests that it has not changed much in the last 4.5 billion years. What the scientists find there could tell them a lot about how the sun and planets formed.

As we wait for higher resolution images of Ultima Thule to emerge, what is known about the body so far? And what do we have left to explore?

Guests

  • Sean O'Keefe Former administrator of NASA; University Professor, Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs; former Secretary of the Navy

Topics + Tags

Most Recent Shows