Nasa shows first photo of distant world from New Horizons probe

Ultima Thule

Jeff Moore, New Horizon's geological and geophysics lead, said Ultima Thule is "perhaps the most primitive object that has yet been seen by any space craft".

But now, clearer images have revealed a snowman.

Ultima Thule, an icy world 6.4 billion kilometres from the sun, looks like a big snowman.

Scientists are keen to study Ultima Thule as it lives in a region that has been relatively untouched since the formation of the solar system, which in turn helps them better understand planetary formation.

The images released so far are "just the tip of the iceberg", Mr Stern said, adding only 1% of data stored on the spacecraft has now been received by scientists.

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The Kuiper Belt is the edge of our solar system, part of the original disk from which the sun and planets formed. At left is an enhanced colour image taken by the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC), produced by combining the near infrared, red and blue channels.

Ultima Thule has a mottled appearance the colour of light brick.

Though they do not appear to have impact craters, there could be hills and ridges, with the neck connecting the two lobes being one of the steepest slopes.

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Still, he said, when all the data comes in, "there are going to be mysteries of Ultima Thule that we can't figure out".

It will take almost two years for New Horizons to beam back all of its observations of Ultima Thule. "Eventually, 2 larger bodies remained & slowly spiraled closer until they touched, forming the bi-lobed object we see today".

This means we're truly seeing one of the first planetesimals, or objects, that went on to form planets.

"This mission has always been about delayed gratification", Stern said on Tuesday.

The body is roughly 19 miles long and completes its own rotation in about 15 hours.

At a press conference Tuesday, the New Horizons mission's principal investigator S. Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute said, "I don't know about you, but I'm really liking this 2019 thing so far".

"#UltimaThule used to be two separate objects".

Stereo analysis and subsequent imaging will be available soon. Unlike the Japanese rovers that performed a wild landing on a moving asteroid last fall, New Horizons is keeping its distance from Ultima Thule to thousands of miles, where it can capture details the size of a basketball court, according to mission scientists.

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