"We had an impression of Ultima Thule based on the limited number of images returned in the days around the flyby, but seeing more data has significantly changed our view", explains principal investigator Prof Alan Stern. By combining the approach images that had already been taken and looking at stars obscured by the Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) as New Horizons hurtled past, scientists have been able to trace an outline of 2014 MU69. "We've never seen something like this orbiting the Sun", he added.
A sequence of images captured as New Horizons moved away from the object in the Kuiper Belt at a velocity of 50,000 km/hour, taken about 10 minutes after closest approach, show a much flatter appearance.
New Horizons' flyby of Ultima Thule occurred some 6.5 billion km from Earth. This object is about 21 miles (34 kilometers) long and lies 1 billion miles (1.6 billion km) beyond Pluto's orbit. The smaller lobe (Thule) is akin to a dented walnut, NASA's New Horizons team reported.More news: 'Roma,' 'Favourite' win big at BAFTAs
The primary close-up pictures of Ultima Thule - with its two particular and, evidently, circular fragments - had onlookers considering it a "snowman".
The incredible images confirmed some predictions and dispelled others, revealing MU69 to be a snowman-shaped world with a rusty red hue that spins end-over-end like a propeller. The "old view" in this illustration is based on images taken within a day of New Horizons' closest approach to the Kuiper Belt object on January 1, 2019, suggesting that both of "Ultima" (the larger section, or lobe) and "Thule" (the smaller) were almost ideal spheres just barely touching each other. The direction of Ultima's spin axis is indicated by the arrows.
The latest images were taken almost 10 minutes after New Horizons crossed its closest approach point, which were the final views New Horizons captured of Ultima Thule, said a NASA release on Friday. Ultima Thule's shape is definitely unique so far in the solar system and its origins could, in turn, refine or change theories about the origin of the solar system itself. The new photos reveal a dramatically different object because they were taken from a different angle than the images that were downloaded first.More news: Manchester United's Legend Paul Scholes Appointed Oldham Athletic Manager
"While the very nature of a fast flyby in some ways limits how well we can determine the true shape of Ultima Thule, the new results clearly show [the object] is much flatter than originally believed and much flatter than expected", said New Horizons project scientists Hal Weaver.
"Nothing quite like this has ever been captured in imagery", said Stern.
While the newly released images are the final ones New Horizons snapped of Ultima, they're far from the last pieces of data we'll see from the probe. It'll take a total of about 20 months for New Horizons to send home all of its flyby imagery and measurements, mission team members have said.More news: Grammys 2019: Michelle Obama's Surprise Appearance And Girl Power Message