NASA Spacecraft Finds ‘Snowman’ Beyond Pluto

First images of celestial body beamed back to earth

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.

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.