First close-ups of Ultima Thule reveal it resembles snowman

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

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

The only issue with the flyby so far has nothing to do with the spacecraft or the object but rather the Ultima Thule nickname that the mission, with NASA's concurrence, applied to the object. Studying it could offer insights to how Earth and the other planets formed.

New Horizons will get even more up close and personal with Ultima soon - as soon as tomorrow - with at least one image expected to come in at nearly 200 miles per pixel.

The New Horizons team was also able to pin down Ultima Thule's size more accurately.

Commissioned by NASA, the anthemic offering celebrates the latest mission by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, which just set the record for the most distant spacecraft flyby ever.

As the new year arrived here on Earth, the team at NASA began receiving the first data from the New Horizons spacecraft confirming it had reached a mysterious object on the outer edge of our solar system.

But now "it's a world", Stern said - with shape, character and implications for our understanding of planetary science.

For Ultima Thule - which wasn't even known when New Horizons departed Earth in 2006 - the endeavor was more hard. The image on the left is an enhanced color image, the center image is a higher resolution image of the object and the right image shows the color overlaid onto the higher resolution image. Moore noted that the early images did not show any solid evidence of impact craters; additional images may reveal whether Ultima Thule has been struck in the past or is worn smooth.

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On 26 June 2014, Ultima Thule was discovered using the Hubble Space Telescope during a preliminary survey to find a suitable Kuiper belt object for the New Horizons probe to fly by. "The bowling pin is gone - it's a snowman if anything at all".

"We are straining the capabilities of this spacecraft, and by tomorrow we'll know how we did", Stern told reporters on Monday.

Stern expressed surprise, and elation, that after picking the mission target "more or less" out of the hat, "that we were able to get as big a victor as this, that is going to revolutionize our knowledge of planetary science". "Everybody was there", Hammel said in an interview. The picture goes up and everybody applauds and cheers.

"It's about as reflective as garden-variety dirt, and it's illuminated by a sun that's 1,900 times fainter than it is on a sunny day down on Earth", Stern said.

"We were basically chasing it down in the dark at 32,000 miles per hour".

The longevity of New Horizon's plutonium battery may even allow it to record its exit from the Solar System. "The data we have look fantastic and we're already learning about Ultima from up close".

"And I would say that just because some bad guys once liked that term, we're not going to let them hijack it", he said, prompting a round of applause from team members and guests in the APL auditorium. The full set of data will be a long time coming - trickling across the solar system over the next 20 months.

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