/New Horizons faraway target is pretty pancake-like, scientists discover – Daily Mail

New Horizons faraway target is pretty pancake-like, scientists discover – Daily Mail

When New Horizons dipped in close to the distant object MU69, also known as Ultima Thule, just after midnight on New Year’s Day, it captured humanity’s first clear look at an object in the Kuiper Belt more than four billion miles from home.

The incredible images confirmed some predictions and dispelled others, revealing MU69 to be a snowman-shaped world with a rusty red hue that spins end-over-end like a propeller.

And, with New Horizons’ last look before pressing on with its mission, things have gotten even stranger.

A new image sequence from the spacecraft’s departing view of MU69 shows it isn’t actually made up of spheroidal segments, as first thought – instead, its two lobes are flat like pancakes.

Scroll down for video 

9577744-6684551-image-a-3_1549668993285 New Horizons faraway target is pretty pancake-like, scientists discover - Daily Mail

9577744-6684551-image-a-3_1549668993285 New Horizons faraway target is pretty pancake-like, scientists discover - Daily Mail

On Twitter, Berkeley planetary astronomer Alex Parker commented that the unusual space rock is ‘pretty pancake-like,’ with one of its lobes resembling Saturn’s flat moon, Atlas. ‘We’ve never seen something like this orbiting the sun,’ said lead investigator Alan Stern

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT ULTIMA THULE SO FAR? 

The NASA craft first captured images of the dual-lobed space rock, located more than a billion miles from Pluto, when it reached it on New Year’s day.

It is about four billion miles from Earth and looks like a reddish snowman.

Based on the New Horizons observations so far, the scientists say Ultima has a ‘very regular’ rotation period, at about 15 hours.

But, it spins end-over-end like a propeller.

The latest images upended the initial assumptions, showing it isn’t actually made up of spheroidal segments, as first thought – instead, its two lobes are flat like pancakes.

‘This really is an incredible image sequence, taken by a spacecraft exploring a small world four billion miles away from Earth,’ said mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of Southwest Research Institute.

‘Nothing quite like this has ever been captured in imagery.’

On Twitter, Berkeley planetary astronomer Alex Parker commented that the unusual space rock is ‘pretty pancake-like,’ with one of its lobes resembling Saturn’s flat moon, Atlas.

New Horizons captured the last-look images on Jan. 1 at 12:42 a.m. EST, when it was 5,494 miles (8,862 kilometers) beyond the Kuiper Belt object.

Stars can be seen ‘blinking out’ in the background of an animation created from several images stitched together as New Horizons flew by.

And, the new view is quite unlike anything scientists expected.

‘We had an impression of Ultimate Thule based on the limited number of images returned in the days around the flyby, but seeing more data has significantly changed our view,’ Stern said.

‘It would be closer to reality to say Ultimate Thule’s shape is flatter, like a pancake.

‘But more importantly, the new images are creating scientific puzzles about how such an object could even be formed. We’ve never seen something like this orbiting the sun.’

9577738-6684551-image-m-12_1549669133624 New Horizons faraway target is pretty pancake-like, scientists discover - Daily Mail

9577738-6684551-image-m-12_1549669133624 New Horizons faraway target is pretty pancake-like, scientists discover - Daily Mail

9577742-6684551-image-a-13_1549669140090 New Horizons faraway target is pretty pancake-like, scientists discover - Daily Mail

9577742-6684551-image-a-13_1549669140090 New Horizons faraway target is pretty pancake-like, scientists discover - Daily Mail

New Horizons captured the last-look images on Jan. 1 at 12:42 a.m. EST, when it was 5,494 miles (8,862 kilometers) beyond the Kuiper Belt object. MU69 exists in an arrangement known as a contact binary – and, it’s now the first a spacecraft has ever explored

9577746-6684551-image-m-14_1549669154796 New Horizons faraway target is pretty pancake-like, scientists discover - Daily Mail

9577746-6684551-image-m-14_1549669154796 New Horizons faraway target is pretty pancake-like, scientists discover - Daily Mail

New Horizons’ first images confirmed some predictions and dispelled others, revealing MU69 to be a snowman-shaped world with a rusty red hue that spins end-over-end like a propeller. A new image sequence, however, from the spacecraft’s departing view of MU69 shows it isn’t actually made up of spheroidal segments – instead, its two lobes are flat like pancakes

MU69 exists in an arrangement known as a contact binary – and, it’s now the first a spacecraft has ever explored.

The scientists say the two lobes of MU69 came together in a ‘gentle’ accretion process, with two objects bound together by each other’s gravity.

9577740-6684551-image-a-21_1549669265767 New Horizons faraway target is pretty pancake-like, scientists discover - Daily Mail

9577740-6684551-image-a-21_1549669265767 New Horizons faraway target is pretty pancake-like, scientists discover - Daily Mail

Stars can be seen ‘blinking out’ in the background of an animation created from several images stitched together as New Horizons flew by

The primitive world was ‘born’ this way, and did not evolve or deform through external processes to take on the strange shape, the team explains.

‘New Horizons is like a time machine, taking us back to the birth of the solar system,’ said Jeff Moore, New Horizons Geology and Geophysics team lead, at the beginning of January.

‘We are seeing a physical representation of the beginning of planetary formation, frozen in time,’ Moore says.

‘Studying Ultima Thule is helping us understand how planets form — both those in our own solar system and those orbiting other stars in our galaxy.’

Thanks to the close observations, we now know the small, oddly shaped world is ‘two objects conjoined,’ Stern says.

‘That bowling pin is gone,’ the leader of the New Horizons joked, in reference to the first blurry images sent home after the flyby. ‘It’s a snowman, if anything at all.’

Based on the New Horizons observations so far, the scientists say Ultima has a ‘very regular’ rotation period, at about 15 hours.

8608556-6684551-Scientists_from_NASA_s_New_Horizons_mission_released_the_first_s-a-15_1549669177383 New Horizons faraway target is pretty pancake-like, scientists discover - Daily Mail

8608556-6684551-Scientists_from_NASA_s_New_Horizons_mission_released_the_first_s-a-15_1549669177383 New Horizons faraway target is pretty pancake-like, scientists discover - Daily Mail

8608554-6596359-image-m-9_1547655970403 New Horizons faraway target is pretty pancake-like, scientists discover - Daily Mail

8608554-6596359-image-m-9_1547655970403 New Horizons faraway target is pretty pancake-like, scientists discover - Daily Mail

Scientists from NASA’s New Horizons mission released the first stitched together animation of Ultima Thule (TOO-lee), the most distant object ever explored by humans. The small, icy object is shown spinning end-over-end like a propeller.