Ultima Thule emerges as contact binary, "cosmic snowman", in new spacecraft images

Listen to New Horizons, Brian May's first solo single in 20 years

Ultima Thule: Clearest image yet of 'snowman' space rock released by NASA

"Objects in the universe are the same way... they're dynamic".

At four billion miles from the Sun, Ultima Thule is the most distant world ever explored by a spacecraft from Earth. One day, they touched. The best bet for sussing out the ingredients is sifting through the unbaked scraps left at the bottom of the mixing bowl-the basic building blocks from which the planets may have formed.

Ultima Thule, a name that was nominated by 40 people, won the public poll.

It's neither a comet nor an asteroid, according to Stern, but rather "a primordial planetesimal".

NASA shared a graphic showing how an object like Ultima Thule forms: "as a rotating cloud of small, icy bodies started to combine".

It also comes with a visual that tells the story of the Ultima Thule project.

"It's two completely separate objects that are now joined together", says Stern, who explained that the larger lobe is now being referred to as "Ultima" and the smaller one is called "Thule". Once engaged, the pair never parted; it appears their union has survived the billions of years since.

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The first color image of Ultima Thule.

"The bowling pin is gone".

"That image is so 2018".

The views were captured by the piano-sized probe's high-resolution camera from a distance of roughly 18,000 miles, a half-hour before the time of close approach on New Year's Day.

The celestial object, formed of two spheres, is around 21 miles tall.

Just such a nickname - Ultima Thule (pronounced TOOL-ie), for New Horizons' recent flyby target, 2014 MU69 - stirred controversy on Twitter late last night and early today (Jan. 1 and 2).

Moore believes MU69 is composed of small icy bodies that are about 4.5 billion years old.

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"We should think of New Horizons as a time machine, a wayback machine to time zero", Moore said.

Recieve emails about upcoming NOVA programs and related content, as well as featured reporting about current events through a science lens. The body has a mottled appearance due to some surface irregularities or differences in elevation. Out in the Kuiper Belt, reds may result from the irradiation of ices, but that's far from the only possibility.

He added that if there was any shock from the Ultima Thule fly-by, it was how fortunate the scientists were for finding it in the Kuiper Belt.

These tantalizing tidbits are only the beginning.

This illustration provided by NASA shows the New Horizons spacecraft. We'll continue to learn much more about the object's geology in the coming hours and days.

"The primary association of Thule and Ultima Thule are with travel and exotic places and cold places - it's associated with travel gear, it's associated often with distant places in Greenland", he told Newsweek.

"I was inspired by the idea that this is the furthest that the Hand Of Man has ever reached", says May. "Those moments when you see an image for the first time".

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