On December 31, 2018 at NASA New horizons The mission made the story, being the first spacecraft to meet with the Cape Thule (KBU), called Ultima Thule (2014 MU69). It happened about two and a half years after that New horizons became the first mission in Pluto's flight history. This last meeting brought some stunning images of the CBA when the spacecraft did it.
But, of course, these were not the last images New horizons would have captured this object. While making the Ultima Thule flight on New Year's Eve, the spacecraft has made a number of pictures that reveal something very interesting about the shape of Ultima Thule. Instead of being composed of two spheres that are linked together, Ultima Thule actually consists of two segments – one that looks like a pancake and the other is a nut.
These images are the last kind to be New horizons the spacecraft was with Ultima Thule (officially called 2014 MU69) as it passed the site on January 1, 2019. They were taken almost ten minutes after New horizons made the closest approach to the subject while traveling at 50,000 km / h (31,000 mph).
As Alan Stern, Head of Mission at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), said in a press release: t
"It's really an incredible sequence of images taken from a spacecraft exploring a small world four billion miles from Earth. Nothing like this has ever been captured in the images. "
The newly-released images revealed important scientific information about Ultima Thule, especially about its true shape. The first close-ups of Ultima Thule show that the object is composed of two spherical segments in which people call it a "snowman." However, the additional analysis of these images and the new images of departure have led scientists to rethink this.
On the one hand, the departure photos were taken from a different angle than the snapshots of the approach, which revealed additional information about the form of CBC. Mostly, New horizons team also combines 14 of the flying images into a short film, allowing them to confirm that the two Ultima Thule shovels are not spherical.
While the larger lob ("Ultima") resembles a giant pancake, the smaller lobe ("Thule") is shaped like a walnut. As Stern said:
"We had the impression of Ultima Thule based on the limited number of images returned in the days around the flyover, but seeing more data significantly changed our vision. It would be closer to reality than to say that the shape of Ultima Thule is flatter, like a pancake. But more importantly, the new images create scientific puzzles about how such an object can even be formed. We have never seen anything like the orbit around the sun. "
Secondly, the new analysis was able to trace the part of Ultima Thule that was not illuminated by the Sun, but which could be identified in the way it blocked the background stars. While the lit crescent was blurred in the frames because of the relatively long exposure time, the team teamed up and processed the images to exacerbate the thin crescent.
The team then is able to compare their analysis with a model drawn from pre-flight imaging and terrestrial telescopic observations. "The shape model we've extracted from all of the existing Thule images is remarkably consistent with what we've learned from the new semi-monthly images," says Simon Porter, New horizons an investigator from SwRI, who manages the modeling efforts.
As Hal Weaver, a JHUAPL New Horizons scientist, summed up:
"While the very nature of fast passage somehow limits how well we can determine the true form of Ultima Thule, the new results clearly show that Ultima and Thule are much shinier than originally supposed and much denser than expected. This will undoubtedly motivate new theories about the formation of planets in the early solar system. "
Besides being historical, first New horizonsMission's expanded mission to study CBC is also a unique scientific opportunity. By studying objects left over from the formation of the Solar System, scientists hope to learn more about how our Solar System is formed and developed over time. The fact that at least one of these objects has such an interesting shape will probably lead to some interesting conclusions!
And do not forget to check out this video, which shows the updated Ultima Thule model, courtesy of NASA Video:
Further Reading: JHUAPL