'Cosmic snowman' turns out to be more of a 'cosmic pancake'

'Cosmic snowman' turns out to be more of a 'cosmic pancake'

And after viewing new photos of Ultima Thule, scientists now say the distant space rock doesn't exactly look like a snowman as previously thought.

The latest images of Ultima Thule shows the KBO as it was racing away at 31,000 miles per hour (50,000 kilometers per hour), about 10 minutes after New Horizons made its closest approach.

At 4 billion miles from Earth, MU69 (also nicknamed Ultima Thule) is the farthest-away object a human spacecraft has ever visited.

By combining the perspectives offered by a handful of images, scientists confirmed Ultima Thule's two lobes aren't spherical. However, more analysis of approach images and new departure images have changed that view. Fascinating fresh images have been taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft showing a view of Kuiper Belt object (KBO) - MU69, which goes by the nickname Ultima Thule.

Now New Horizons is bidding farewell to another long-distance neighbor, but not before throwing scientists new puzzles to munch on about the odd Ultima Thule.

"It would be closer to reality to say Ultima Thule's shape is flatter, like a pancake". The larger lobe, nicknamed "Ultima", more closely resembles a giant pancake and the smaller lobe, nicknamed "Thule", is shaped like a dented walnut. Most of the asteroid is dark in the side view captured by New Horizons, so NASA had to guess at its shape by how it blocked starlight. "We've never seen anything like this orbiting the Sun".

This illustration shows NASA's old and new views of Ultima Thule.

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Our first impressions of Ultima Thule weren't entirely accurate.

The departure images were taken from a different angle than the approach photos and reveal complementary information on Ultima Thule's shape.

The newest sequence of images suggests that instead of two spheres, MU69's sections (called "lobes") are somewhat flat. New data from the New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) is posted here each Friday, for those interested in seeing the raw image files before processing.

Here's how the mission team thought Ultima Thule looked based on images captured before its flyby.

For that ghostly outline to emerge, the science team needed to combine and sharpen multiple images. Add the fact that the spacecraft used long exposure times to boost the camera's signal level, and you've got some heavy blurring going on.

Scientists believe that out here in this remote frigid realm, objects like MU69 have been frozen in pristine condition since the onset of the solar system some 4 billion years ago. Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, said: "This will undoubtedly motivate new theories of planetesimal formation in the early solar system".

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