New Horizons mission reveals entirely new kind of world

First photos of space 'snowman' Ultima Thule.

The first color image of Ultima Thule, taken at a distance of 85,000 miles (137,000 kilometers) at 4:08 Universal Time on January 1, 2019, highlights its reddish surface. At left is an enhanced color image taken by the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC), produced by combining the near infrared, red and blue channels. The center image taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) has a higher spatial resolution than MVIC by approximately a factor of five. At right, the color has been overlaid onto the LORRI image to show the color uniformity of the Ultima and Thule lobes. Note the reduced red coloring at the neck of the object. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
The first color image of Ultima Thule, taken at a distance of 85,000 miles (137,000 kilometers) at 4:08 Universal Time on January 1, 2019, highlights its reddish surface. At left is an enhanced color image taken by the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC), produced by combining the near infrared, red and blue channels. The center image taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) has a higher spatial resolution than MVIC by approximately a factor of five. At right, the color has been overlaid onto the LORRI image to show the color uniformity of the Ultima and Thule lobes. Note the reduced red coloring at the neck of the object. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

On Jan.1, New Horizons made history with the first flyby New Horizons Mission Reveals Entirely New Kind of World. Now, NASA scientists have revealed the first detailed images of the Ultima Thule captured by the spacecraft.

Its surprising appearance, not at all like anything we’ve seen previously, lights up the procedures that built the planets four and a half billion years ago.

The images captured from the distance as close as 17,000 miles (27,000 kilometers)-reveal that the Ultima Thule is formed with two connected spheres. These spheres likely joined as early as 99 percent of the way back to the formation of the solar system, colliding no faster than two cars in a fender-bender.

Moreover, its world measures 19 miles (31 kilometers) in length. The larger sphere is known as Ultima whereas the smaller sphere is known as Thule.

This image taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) is the most detailed of Ultima Thule returned so far by the New Horizons spacecraft. It was taken at 5:01 Universal Time on January 1, 2019, just 30 minutes before closest approach from a range of 18,000 miles (28,000 kilometers), with an original scale of 459 feet (140 meters) per pixel. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
This image taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) is the most detailed of Ultima Thule returned so far by the New Horizons spacecraft. It was taken at 5:01 Universal Time on January 1, 2019, just 30 minutes before closest approach from a range of 18,000 miles (28,000 kilometers), with an original scale of 459 feet (140 meters) per pixel. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado said, “This flyby is a historic achievement. Never before has any spacecraft team tracked down such a small body at such high speed so far away in the abyss of space. New Horizons has set a new bar for state-of-the-art spacecraft navigation.”

Helene Winters, New Horizons Project Manager said, “In the coming months, New Horizons will transmit dozens of data sets to Earth, and we’ll write new chapters in the story of Ultima Thule — and the solar system.”