Ultima Thule, Caliper's body of billions of miles past Pluto, which NASA's New Horizons probe meets in New Year, is in a much sharper focus at the highest resolution still received, an image that shows "intriguing light and dark pattern of unknown origin. . "
"This new image begins to reveal the geological differences of the two Ultima Thule shovels and introduces new mysteries," says Alan Stern, chief investigator at New Horizons. "Next month we will have better colors and better dividing images that we hope will help uncover the ultimate mystery of Ultima Thule."
The newest image was shot on January 1, when New Horizons was 6,700 miles (4,200 miles) from its target, and only seven minutes before the closest approach. Taken from the wide-angle Multicolour Visible Camera for visualization of the spacecraft or MVIC, distorted surface characteristics of 135 meters (440 feet) can be distinguished.
"The illuminated illumination of this image reveals new topographic details on the day / night boundary or a terminator near the top," says John Hopkins University of Applied Physics Laboratory.
– These details include numerous small pits with a diameter of about 0.7 kilometers (0.4 miles). The large circular feature, about 7 kilometers (4 miles) across the smaller of the two shovels, also shows deep depression. It is unclear whether these pits are impact craters or features stemming from other processes such as "pile collapsing" or ancient leakage of volatile materials. "
Because of the vast distance of New Horizons from Earth – from this writing, 6.64 billion kilometers (4.13 billion miles) – it takes radio signals six and nine minutes to cross the bay with the inner solar system. Considering the relatively low probes radio system, it will take about 20 months to link all the images and other data collected during the New Year's Fly.