Scientists show off space snowman, Ultima Thule, in 3D

Scientists show off space snowman, Ultima Thule, in 3D

Located 6.5 billion kilometres from Earth, Ultima Thule means "beyond the known world".

It's only the start of the New Year, and NASA is already breaking records, providing monumental new images of the farthest object to ever be photographed in space.

This photo is a dramatic improvement on the images we've had in the days before the flyby, and it answers one of the biggest questions scientists have had about the asteroid: Is it one object or two?

It orbits the Sun in a region of the Solar System known as the Kuiper belt - a collection of debris and dwarf planets.

What has got scientists all a-quiver is that the appearance of Ultima Thule seems to confirm theories of planetary accretion, which has specks of dust colliding to form objects with sufficient gravity to attract each other.

The object is similar to a snowman.

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Now, however, we have a much clearer image of what Ultima Thule actually looks like, thanks to new scientific data sent from New Horizons. The righthand image is a combination of the color and black&white (center) observations. "Meet Ultima Thule!" said lead investigator Alan Stern, doing little to hide his joy as he revealed a new sharper image of the cosmic body, taken at a distance as close as 17,000 miles with a resolution of 140 metres per pixel.

"The Holy Grail of Solar System formation?" In a lengthy update by the New Horizons team, the group boasts that New Horizons sent back a signal to its handlers letting them know that it had filled its on-board recorders with a wealth of science data that it collected as it zoomed past Ultima Thule.

The first detailed images beamed back from the USA agency's New Horizons mission allowed scientists to confidently determine the body was formed when two spheres, or 'lobes, ' slowly gravitated towards each other until they stuck together - a major scientific discovery.

"This is the first object that we can clearly tell was born this way" Stern said, instead of evolving as a sort of 'bi-lobe'.

Scientists had not discovered Ultima Thule when the probe was launched, according to NASA, making the mission unique in that respect.

"I'm going to trust in my stereo experts that say that at this phase angle, you can not trust the topography", he remarked at the press conference.

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