Yes, we know that it looks like a bowling pin, but it is actually Ultima Thule, a space rock that is the farthest one ever visited by a manmade spacecraft.
This snapshot was taken on 31 December when NASA’s New Horizons was only half a million miles away. Being so far from the space rock, the photo taken shows a fuzzy and irregularly shaped rock.
A Pixelated Blob
Hal Weaver, the New Horizons project scientist said that:
Even though it’s a pixelated blob still, it’s a better pixelated blob.
According to the scientists’ estimations, Ultima is almost 22 miles long and 9 miles wide (35 by 15 km), and it spins like a propeller blade.
At 12:33 a.m. ET on January 1, 2019, New Horizons just flew by the surface of the space rock at only 2,200 miles away.
“We have a healthy spacecraft. We’ve just accomplished the most distant flyby,” said mission operations manager, Alice Bowman, after getting the info on the spacecraft’s status.
Meanwhile, New Horizons took many close-up images, and the fuzzy blob will soon look better in the next days when the images will travel back to Earth. These images will help scientists learn more about the mysterious space rock.
On Twitter, just a few hours ago, NASA’s chief Jim Bridenstine congratulated the New Horizons team for their achievements so far:
The continuous success of the mission shows that the spacecraft is still operating in deep space, close to the Kuiper Belt, where temperatures approach absolute zero. The many objects in the Kuiper Belt have been preserved in that freezing temperature so well that they might be in perfect condition, keeping their composition from the beginning of the solar system, which happened approximately 4 billion years ago.
Looking at Ultima is like looking at the origin of our solar system, and the principal investigator of the New Horizons mission concluding:
The Kuiper Belt is just a scientific wonderland.
Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere