Nasa snaps the first high-res images of 'snowman' Ultima Thule

Nasa snaps the first high-res images of 'snowman' Ultima Thule

But now, clearer images have revealed a snowman.

Before today, it wasn't known if Ultima Thule was a single object or two objects orbiting one another.

May wrote an anthem for New Horizon's flyby of Ultima Thule as a tribute to a glimpse beyond our solar system.

Instead, the first images beamed down from the spacecraft show it resembles a snowman - or even the BB-8 droid robot from the "Star Wars" film series.

Scientists consider Ultima Thule an exquisite time machine that should provide clues to the origins of our solar system.

The contact binary shape of Ultima Thule is consistent with models of the formation of the Kuiper Belt. This image was taken by the craft's Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC), which combines light from the infrared, red and blue channels. Olkin said the initial data will focus on specific bands that could help scientists identify water ice or other volatiles.

Though they do not appear to have impact craters, there could be hills and ridges, with the neck connecting the two lobes being one of the steepest slopes. The coming weeks will reveal more about the object's composition and terrain.

We now know the basics of this unusual object, the most distant solar system body ever explored by a spacecraft.

"I had never heard the term Ultima Thule before we had our naming campaign", Mark Showalter, a planetary astronomer at the SETI Institute and investigator on the New Horizons mission who led the naming process, told me at Newsweek in March.

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CNN , citing military court documents, reported that Whelan also used another's social security number and wrote bad checks. On Monday , Russia's FSB State Security agency revealed that it had arrested an American named Paul Whelan on Friday.

Although New Horizons was the fastest spacecraft ever launched in 2006, it continues to lose ground to the older missions.

Eventually, these two bodies remained, slowly spiralling closer until they touched, forming Ultima Thule.

This is just the beginning of what we will learn about this otherworldly object.

Scientists weren't able to confirm the flyby until several hours later. "This is exploration at its finest", said Dr. Adam Hamilton, President and CEO of Southwest Research Institute. The smaller one, which is 9 miles across, is "Thule".

Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons, said: 'It is only really the size of something like Washington DC and it is about as reflective as garden variety dirt.

"This object, which we can now see is a contact binary, used to be 2 separate objects that are now bound together".

Stereo analysis and subsequent imaging will be available soon.

New Horizons, designed by and managed from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, has been speeding toward the edge of the solar system for 13 years.

The only issue with the flyby so far has nothing to do with the spacecraft or the object but rather the Ultima Thule nickname that the mission, with NASA's concurrence, applied to the object.

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