Hard to find a snowman in these parts this winter but NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has found one – more than a billion kilometres beyond Pluto.
Scientists have had their eye on the small icy object since New Horizons sent back pictures of Pluto three years ago. The first images sent back from a fly-by on New Year’s Day suggested the object was shaped like a bowling pin. New images have it looking more like a reddish snowman.
After flying by the most distant object ever explored, @NASANewHorizons beamed back the 1st pictures & science data from #UltimaThule. This data is helping us understand how planets form — both those in our own solar system & those orbiting other stars: https://t.co/cp8lE03Cl5 pic.twitter.com/CUaOK1LZBG
— NASA (@NASA) January 2, 2019
The celestial body has been nicknamed Ultima Thule — meaning “beyond the known world”. It consists of two fused-together spheres, one of them three times bigger than the other, extending about 33 kilometres in length.
Scientist Jeff Moore of NASA’s Ames Research Center says it’s likely the two spheres formed when icy, pebble-sized pieces coalesced in space billions of years ago. The spheres then spiraled closer to each other until they gently touched — as slowly as parking a car here on Earth at just a mile or two per hour — and stuck together.
More data from New Horizons i expected today (Thursday). Scientists believe the icy exterior of Ultima Thule is probably a mix of water, methane and nitrogen, among other things.