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NASA's New Horizons reveals new details about Ultima Thule
The data will help understand the formation of our solar system.
NASA's New Horizons mission team has started unraveling the mysteries of the Kuiper Belt object (KBO) also known as Ultima Thule. It is the most distant object that mankind has ever located. The spacecraft has been sending the data back on Earth ever since its flyby. The data is helping astronomers understand the formation, geology, and composition of this ancient relic of solar system formation, according to NASA.
Ultima Thule appeared to be a snowman-like shaped rock in the initial images, but further analysis showed the actual shape of the space rock. It comprises of a large and flat lobe which is called Ultima that is connected to a smaller and circular lobe which is nicknamed Thule.
"We've never seen anything like this anywhere in the solar system," said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern. "It is sending the planetary science community back to the drawing board to understand how planetesimals - the building blocks of the planets - form."
The astronomers believe that the two lobes once orbited each other until something brought them together. The neck of the space rock is bent which hints shearing as the lobes merged, said Kirby Runyon, a team member for New Horizons.
Ultima Thule is also very red in color, even darker than Pluto, which New Horizons flew past on the inner edge of the Kuiper Belt in 2015, and appears similar to many "cold classical" KBOs, said the team. The spacecraft also observed methanol, water ice, and organic molecules on the surface during its flyby.