"Ultima Thule"-a traditional name of distant places beyond the known world-was a "relatively common suggestion" among some 34,000 publicly nominated monikers, Newsweek's Meghan Bartels reported in March".
Ultima Thule sits in the Kuiper Belt, about 1.6 billion km past Pluto.
And doughty New Horizons isn't done yet. Ultima Thule rotates about once every 15 hours, the scientists determined.
Ultima Thule is likely similar to some comets and asteroids that scientists have studied as they pass through the inner solar system. "What you're seeing is the first contact binary ever explored by a spacecraft", Stern said today at a press conference here at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
The first color image of Ultima Thule.More news: Oil falls towards $53 on economic worries, surging supply
New Horizons - which previously revealed the majesty of Pluto in 2015 - swooped just 2,200 miles from the surface of MU69, which has been temporarily nicknamed Ultima Thule (the International Association of Astronomers will eventually endow MU69 with its official name).
"Our solar system is four billion years old... so its initial conditions have been kind of washed out", Kalirai explains.
This created a snowman-shaped, two-lobed binary object. That means it is a single object, with two lobes, but the lobes are gently in contact.
About the size of a city, Ultima Thule has a mottled appearance and is the color of tiresome brick, probably because of the effects of radiation bombarding the icy surface, with brighter and darker regions. They could not see any large craters on its surface, though they said some could be revealed in images taken from different angles. Better images should yield definitive answers in the days and weeks ahead. Scientists believe the icy exterior is probably a mix of water, methane and nitrogen, among other things.
NASA shared a graphic showing how an object like Ultima Thule forms: "as a rotating cloud of small, icy bodies started to combine".More news: This Oil-Rich Country Loves Electric Cars
How it was taken: The picture above was taken on January 1 2019 from a distance of 85,000 miles (137,000 kilometers), using the spacecraft's two cameras: the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager and the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera.
Scientists hope to have New Horizons (now moving at 32,000 mph) fly by a second Kuiper Belt object before heading into interstellar space, the fifth manmade object (following two Pioneer craft and two Voyagers) to leave the Solar System.
Scientists consider Ultima Thule an exquisite time machine that should provide clues to the origins of our solar system.
"This is the first object we can clearly tell was born this way, and didn't evolve to look this way", Stern said. He added: "We've never seen anything like this before".
Still, he said, when all the data comes in, "there are going to be mysteries of Ultima Thule that we can't figure out".More news: LeBron James, Lonzo Ball lead Lakers in All-Star voting