It turns out that the asteroid Ultima Thule is not at all like a snowman. Recent photos from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft (Jan. 1) showed that the object seems much flatter than previously thought.
The first images and data allowed us to imagine that we had an asteroid of two volumetric rounded parts, where the overall shape resembled a snowman circle. But the latest information shows a flatter surface, which looks more like a pancake. In this case, we get a new scientific riddle: how such an object managed to form, because it has never been possible to find anything like it in the native system.
On January 1, 2019, the New Horizons spacecraft received a snapshot of the Ultima Thule (2014 MU69) at a distance of 8862 km. Left: The average image of 10 frames received by the LORRI instrument. The view is blurred, since during the fast scan a relatively long exposure time was used to increase the level of the camera signal. Right: a clearer processed version that eliminates motion blur.
The New Horizons mission, worth $ 720 million, was launched in January 2006 for the first-ever Pluto flight. This goal was achieved in July 2015, and the dwarf planet turned out to be a surprisingly diverse world with interesting surface features.
Then they expanded the mission and decided to explore the asteroid Ultima Thule from close range. The object is extended in length by 34 km and distant by 1.6 billion km from the orbit of Pluto (6.6 billion km from Earth). At first they thought that the form resembled a pin. But images from a distance of 3540 km showed an asteroid of two petals, seemingly spherical. Therefore, it became known as the red snowman.
The old (top) and new (bottom) models of the shape of the remote object Ultima Thule, past which NASA's New Horizons flew past January 1, 2019. Initially, the researchers thought that the object was shaped like a snowman, but now they are considering a flattened version. Dashed blue lines represent uncertainty in the level of the “plane” of Ultima Thule
However, recent photos have forced once again to think about the shape of Ultima Thule. The ship New Horizons took pictures with a long exposure 10 minutes after the closest approach. In addition, these species were obtained from a different angle and managed to see the contour of the object against the background of many stars (he blocked them with his “body”). New frames show flat surfaces.
It is important to understand that this is not the last conclusions. The fact is that New Horizons will transmit the collected information for another 20 months, allowing you to create a complete picture. The spacecraft feels great, so it has every opportunity to visit another distant object if NASA plans a mission.