NASA's Pic Of Snowman-Shaped Ultima Thule Inspires Hilarious Memes, Jokes

NASA's Pic Of Snowman-Shaped Ultima Thule Inspires Hilarious Memes, Jokes

NASA's Pic Of Snowman-Shaped Ultima Thule Inspires Hilarious Memes, Jokes

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on Tuesday flew past a small icy object four billion miles from the sun named Ultima Thule - a record-setting mission that will give a glimpse of what lies on the edge of the solar system.

NASA's New Horizons mission flew by the object early on January 1, and the maneuver's science data will reach Earth over the course of almost two months.

Released by NASA, this is the first colour image of Ultima Thule, taken at a distance of 137,000 kilometres and highlighting its reddish surface.

After successfully completing its Pluto flyby in 2015, the agency redirected the spacecraft to visit an even more distant object known as Ultima Thule. NASA dubbed the larger lobe Ultima, and the other, which is about three times smaller, Thule.

Scientists can also now infer some geological properties of Ultima Thule. Frozen in time, the object may allow NASA to collect data that it hopes can give us further insight into the history and formation of our solar system.

Jeff Moore, the mission's team lead for geology and geophysics, likened New Horizons to a time machine, taking scientists back to the birth of the solar system.

The image was taken when the spacecraft was 28,000 km (18,000 mi) away, or just 30 minutes, away from making its closest approach to Ultima Thule.

New images and data returned by the New Horizons probe prove Ultima Thule is a snowman-shaped contact binary, the first to be explored by a spacecraft.

The New Horizons team combined a low-resolution color image of 2014 MU69, or Ultima Thule, with sharper black-and-white imagery to produce the composite view at right. The discovery required the use of the Hubble Space Telescope, because ground-based observations had not found a Kuiper belt object in the zone of space that can be accessed by New Horizons.

Planetary scientists have never before seen a close-up of a body like Ultima Thule. With the onslaught of the photos they are now elucidating the larger sphere Ultima and the miniature called Thule. It is likely an icy fragment that coalesced more than 4.5 billion years ago and that has remained in a deep freeze of the solar system's Kuiper belt ever since, some 4 billion miles from the sun.

Color may seem trivial, but for the New Horizons team, it's critical information that will help the researchers determine what ices and minerals decorate the object's surface, says Silvia Protopapa, a co-investigator of the New Horizons Kuiper Belt Extended Mission.

'I don't think we have stressed enough, so I really want to say, what this spacecraft and this team accomplished is unprecedented. But the signal to confirm the spacecraft's location did not reach Earth until 10 hours later. It is going to revolutionise our knowledge of planetary science'.

It was also a vast improvement over images snapped the day before, which provided more hints about Ultima Thule's shape and rotation.

He said he thought it would be hard because he couldn't "think of anything that rhymes with Ultima Thule".

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