Faraway space snowman is pitted and has bright 'collar'

This Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019 image made available by NASA on Thursday, Jan. 24 shows the Kuiper belt object Ultima Thule, about 1 billion miles beyond Pluto, encountered by the New Horizons spacecraft. It will take almost two years for New Horizons to transmit all the data from the flyby, 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute via AP)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The space snowman visited by NASA on New Year's Day is pitted all over and has a bright "collar" between its two fused spheres.

These are the newest details to emerge about Ultima Thule, the most distant object ever explored.

A close-up picture taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft right before closest approach on Jan. 1, and released Thursday, shows lots of little pits on Ultima Thule. They're less than a half-mile (0.7 kilometers) across. There's also a much bigger, circular depression on the smaller lobe, considered the snowman's head. Scientists don't know if these are impact craters or sinkholes.

Categorized as a contact binary, the approximately 20-mile-long (32-kilometer-long), reddish Ultima Thule has both light and dark patterns. The brightest spot is where the two lobes connect. Scientists say the varied shading may help explain how the ancient object was formed, as the solar system was emerging 4.5 billion years ago.

Lead scientist Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute promises even better pictures during the next month. It will take almost two years for New Horizons to transmit all the data from the flyby, 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away.

At such a vast distance, it takes more than six hours for radio signals to travel one way. New Horizons is already more than 19 million miles (30.5 million kilometers) beyond Ultima Thule.

Launched in 2006, the spacecraft became the first visitor to the dwarf planet Pluto in 2015. Ultima Thule was its second target. A third destination — even deeper inside the so-called Kuiper Belt on the frozen fringes of our solar system — could be possible in the 2020s.

___

The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Must Read

House Democrat slams GOP chairman over Clinton...

Sep 9, 2016

The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee says the panel's Republican chairman is...

Lawmaker issues subpoena to FBI for Clinton probe...

Sep 12, 2016

A top House Republican has escalated the GOP's battle with the FBI over the decision not to...

Software co.: We warned Tesla about hands-free...

Sep 16, 2016

The company that made the camera and computer system for Tesla Motors' semi-autonomous Autopilot...

US elections still vulnerable to rigging,...

Dec 26, 2016

The presidential election in November has cast light on long-known problems in the voting system

US gov't accuses Fiat Chrysler of cheating on...

Jan 13, 2017

The U.S. government is accusing Fiat Chrysler of failing to disclose software in some of its...

Sign up now!

About Us

In The Headline sought to bring professionalism back into journalism, bringing you only the most exclusive and the most impactive news from all over the globe.

Contact us: sales[at]intheheadline.com