The Sharpest Photo of the Alien Object in the Kuiper Belt Confuses Scientists

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made it’s close approach to the alien Kuiper Belt object – which got the name Ultima Thule, last month. It set the record as it also set its camera on the space rock, capturing its shape and features and baffling everyone. At first, people saw Ultima Thule as being a snowman, but as New Horizons got closer and closer, scientists were shocked to see that the alien rock actually looked like a pancake!

Now that the images were beamed back to Earth, New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern explains how the entire process took a tremendous effort:

Getting these images required us to know precisely where both tiny Ultima and New Horizons were—moment by moment – as they passed one another at over 32,000 miles per hour in the dim light of the Kuiper Belt, a billion miles beyond Pluto. This was a much tougher observation than anything we had attempted in our 2015 Pluto flyby.

The entire observation could have easily failed, especially with the narrow field of view that the camera aboard the spacecraft had. However, Stern added that the team, and the science “nailed it, and the result is a field day for our science team!”

Capturing Ultima on Camera Reveals Impressive Details

Some of the details we now see on Ultima Thule’s surface are unlike any object ever explored before.

In the photos, scientists spotted bright patches of terrain, dark pits in the space between the dark sides of the body and the sides lit by the sun. These features made every scientist on the project wonder what they could be, explains the deputy project scientist from SwRI, John Spencer:

Whether these features are craters produced by impactors, sublimation pits, collapse pits, or something entirely different, is being debated in our science team.

According to Project Scientist Hal Weaver, these images recently sent from new horizons could have the highest spatial resolution in the entire mission. It takes six hours and nine minutes for New Horizons to send and receive radio signals.

The spacecraft continues its journey through the Kuiper Belt.