NASA reveals images of distant 'Snowman' shaped Ultima Thule

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

Ultima Thule: Clearest image yet of 'snowman' space rock released by NASA

"What this spacecraft and this team accomplished is unprecedented", said Alan Stern, the mission's principal investigator, before unveiling the first images.

Ultima Thule's surface reflects light about as much as "garden variety dirt", he said, as the sun's rays are 1,600 times fainter there than on Earth.

Although NASA's Voyagers crossed the Kuiper Belt on their way to true interstellar space, their 1970s-era instruments were not almost as sophisticated as those on New Horizons, Weaver noted, and the twin spacecraft did not pass near any objects known at the time. Over time, two larger objects remained and slowly joined together in what scientists called "contact binary".

That's where Ultima Thule comes in: It looks to be a partial conglomeration of uncooked space dough-a premature mashup that could have served as the basis for a planet, but didn't. Ultima Thule rotates about once every 15 hours, the scientists determined.

When asked about the Nazis' use of the term, Showalter confirmed that he was aware of the usage and said that the New Horizons team and NASA, including its legal department, decided that the original meaning was more prominent and outweighed the less savory connotations.

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NASA's New Horizons explorer successfully "phoned home" on Tuesday after a journey to the most distant world ever explored by humankind, a frozen rock at the edge of the solar system that scientists hope will uncover secrets to its creation.

"I think we should think of New Horizons as a time machine, a way-back machine set to time zero, that's brought us back to the very beginning of solar system history to the place where we can observe the most primordial building blocks of the planets".

"Ultima Thule" was one of 37 contenders that the New Horizons team selected from 34,000 public suggestions and put to the vote.

The New Horizons team was also able to pin down Ultima Thule's size more accurately. And yes, higher resolution images are expected, hopefully confirming Ultima Thule really does look like a giant misshapen Nerd fished from the bottom of the box.

As the spacecraft transmits dozens more data sets to Earth, "we'll write new chapters in the story of Ultima Thule-and the Solar System", according to New Horizons Project Manager Helene Winters.

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"Let me say, that bowling pin is gone". It's so far away the picture took six hours to reach Earth.

New Horizons reached Pluto in July 2015 and revealed an wonderful planet, rich in detail and structure.

Based on photos snapped by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), scientists estimate Ultima Thule is about 19 miles long; its dual spheres measure 12 miles across ("Ultima") and nine miles across ("Thule").

He added: "It is going to revolutionise our knowledge of planetary science". "We have far less than 1 percent of the data ... already down on the ground", Stern said.

This image made available by NASA shows images with separate colour and detail information, and a composited image of both, showing Ultima Thule.

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