Science

NASA Releases Up-Close Images Of “Snowman”

Ultima Thule is made of two icy space rocks smushed together

Ultima Thule
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NASA Releases Up-Close Images Of "Snowman", Ultima Thule is made of two icy space rocks smushed together. The most distant object ever explored by spacecraft is a reddish, snowman-shape rock 4 billion miles from Earth.

The object, nicknamed Ultima Thule, was photographed by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft during a late-night rendezvous on the first day of 2019. It's odd shape, which scientists term a "contact binary," indicates that it formed as two spherical rocks slowly fused together in the early days of the solar system.

New Horizons's encounter with Ultima Thule happened so far away that it took six hours for signals traveling at the speed of light to reach Earth. The black-and-white photo was taken from about 30,000 miles away, as New Horizons sped toward its target at 32,000 miles per hour.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, where New Horizons is operated, were up late, working to transform those bits of data into the first high-resolution image of a Kuiper belt object.

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