The picture's were captured by the space agency's New Horizons probe, which has broken the record for most distant exploration of a solar object. This union was not violent; the two bodies came together at about walking speed, in a meetup more akin to a spacecraft docking than to a collision, said Jeff Moore of NASA's Ames Research Center, the leader of New Horizons' geology and geophysics team. The mission team have made a decision to name the larger mound (or the body) Ultima, and the smaller mound (or the head) Thule.
That's why New Horizons team members were so keen to fly by the object, and why they're so excited by the early science returns from the epic New Year's Day encounter.
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Ultima Thule, or more formally 2014 MU69, is a member of the Kuiper Belt, a ring-shaped region of icy objects orbiting the sun.
Those larger specs then continued to clump together until objects greater than 1 kilometer in size formed and began attracting each other with their gravity... and so on to form the larger objects in our solar system today. "We are seeing a physical representation of the beginning of planetary formation, frozen in time", he said.
"This is what we need to move the models of planetary formation forward", said Alan Stern. New Horizons has been releasing blurry photos of the object and has detected some weirdness about it, as we've reported-there didn't seem to be any variation in the amount of light it reflected. The larger lobe is the "bottom" sphere and the smaller lobe is the "upper" sphere. After it coasted through, NASA selected Ultima Thule as the next observational target and set a course.
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The body is roughly 19 miles long and completes its own rotation in about 15 hours. It was the fastest spacecraft ever launched at the time (only recently supplanted by NASA's Parker solar mission), and the fifth manmade object to reach solar escape velocity.
The images released so far are "just the tip of the iceberg", he said, adding only 1% of data stored on the spacecraft has now been received by scientists. The left image is color-enhanced.
The initial "bowling pin" image.
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