Ultima Thule, the most distant object ever visited by a spacecraft, reveals the deepest history of our solar system— and, perhaps, revolutionizes planetary science.
This is the world’s farthest exploration in history. Scientists will have to wait 20 months to receive the several gigabytes of flyby data, as it is transmitted at a rate of only about 1,000 bits per second.
The message from the NASA’s New Horizons probe back to Earth now that it has finished its historic exploration of a small body in the Kuiper belt is that solar system ‘s history is a dish that is best served cold. And it is cold, infact very cold on Ultima Thule.
The team of New Horizons used the Hubble Space Telescope to search for its flyby target after Pluto,the Kuiper Belt.The Science Team discovered an object that New Horizons could reach with its available fuel using observations made with Hubble on 26 June 2014. The object was subsequently designated as MU69 in 2014, given the small planet number 485968, and publicly referred to as ” Ultima Thule “(meaning “outside the known world “).
Scientists describe Ultima Thule as a bi-lobate binary, a solar system body consisting of two roughly spherical bodies that are gravitationally pulled together until they touch.The larger part (nicknamed Ultima by the New Horizons team) has a diameter of 12 miles while the smaller part (nicknamed Thule) has a diameter of 9 miles. The bonded pair rotates every 15 hours on its axis and rotates the Sun once every 300 years or so.
The surface of Ultima Thule appears to be only moderately cratered. The Sun from Ultima Thule would appear to be 1,900 fainter than that from the Earth, making it a pretty dark setting. To date, the data of New Horizons have revealed no moons or atmosphere.
Ultima Thule probably originated as two bodies formed in the early days of the solar system from a rotating cloud of small, icy debris about 4,5 billion years ago. They spiraled slowly to each other over time until they came into contact. The impact speed had to be sufficiently slow – perhaps only a few miles per hour – that the bodies did not demolish each other.
Ultima Thule belongs to a class of Kuiper belt objects called ” Cold Classicals, ” which have almost circular orbits with low inclinations to the solar plane and have not been disturbed since they were formed 4.6 billion years ago, perhaps. Ultima Thule is therefore the most primitive planetary object yet explored and reveals to us the conditions in this distant part of the world.