NASA's faraway space snowman has flat, not round, behind

FILE- This Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, file image made available by NASA shows the Kuiper belt object Ultima Thule, about 1 billion miles beyond Pluto, encountered by the New Horizons spacecraft. New photos from the New Horizons spacecraft offer a new perspective on the small cosmic body 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away. Scientists say the object is actually flatter on the backside than originally thought. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute via AP, File)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The faraway space snowman visited by NASA last month has a surprisingly flat — not round — behind.

New photos from the New Horizons spacecraft offer a new perspective on the small cosmic body 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away. The two-lobed object, nicknamed Ultima Thule, is actually flatter on the backside than originally thought, according to scientists.

Pictures released late last week — taken shortly after closest approach on New Year's Day — provide an outline of the side not illuminated by the sun.

When viewed from the front, Ultima Thule still resembles a two-ball snowman. But from the side , the snowman looks squashed, sort of like a lemon and pie stuck together, end to end.

"Seeing more data has significantly changed our view," Southwest Research Institute's Alan Stern, the lead scientist, said in a statement. "It would be closer to reality to say Ultima Thule's shape is flatter, like a pancake. But more importantly, the new images are creating scientific puzzles about how such an object could even be formed. We've never seen something like this orbiting the sun."

Project scientist Hal Weaver of Johns Hopkins University, home to New Horizons flight control center, said the finding should spark new theories on how such primitive objects formed early in the solar system.

Ultima Thule — considered a contact binary — is the most distant world ever explored. New Horizons zipped past it at high speed, after becoming the first visitor to Pluto in 2015. Mission managers hope to target an even more distant celestial object in this so-called Kuiper Belt, on the frozen fringes of the solar system, if the spacecraft remains healthy.

New Horizons is already 32 million miles (52 million kilometers) beyond Ultima Thule. It will take another 1 ½ years to beam back all the flyby data.

The spacecraft rocketed from Florida in 2006.

___

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

Oregon settles lawsuit for botched health care...

Sep 16, 2016

Oregon is announcing a settlement of a lawsuit in which it accused software giant Oracle America...

After online threats, gaming engineer plans run...

Dec 24, 2016

The co-founder of a Boston-based gaming software company who made headlines when she was threatened...

Study: Ad-tech use shines light on fringe, fake...

Dec 29, 2016

The contrast between mainstream and fake or fringe news sites isn't just about the stories and...

Hulu adds CBS for upcoming live TV streaming...

Jan 4, 2017

Hulu is teaming up with CBS to add three of the network's channels to its upcoming live TV...

More pay, greater confidence lifts US retail...

Jan 13, 2017

Higher pay, rising consumer confidence boosted US retail sales 0.6 percent in December

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