Sharper New Horizons photos reveal Ultima Thule as a reddish space "snowman"

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Unlike in the inner Solar System, there are probably very few collisions between objects. The New Horizons spacecraft encountered it on January 1, 2019.

A NASA spacecraft travelling through space sent back pictures of the most distant object explored by mankind on Wednesday. A distant object now actually feels real to everyone here on Earth.

Future images sent back to earth will be of a higher quality as they will have been taken closer to the object and will benefit from better sunlight. Over time, two larger objects remained and slowly joined together in what scientists called "contact binary".

Clues about the surface composition of Ultima Thule should start rolling in by Thursday.

"This flyby is a historic achievement", said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Occasional astrophysicist and guitarist for Queen Brian May has gifted us with a song in tribute to NASA's successful mission to flyby Ultima Thule. The improved resolution also draws attention to the object's "neck", where the two lobes are connected.

Carly Howett, New Horizons co-investigator, said: 'We can definitively say that Ultima Thule is red'.

"Just because some bad guys once liked that term, we're not going to let 'em hijack it", Stern said.

Instead, they focused on what the new images told them about planetary science.

Ultima Thule may be only 20 miles long and shaped like a dog bone, with a possible small moon attached.

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

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The early images do not show obvious signs of craters caused by impacts.

The celestial body was nicknamed Ultima Thule - meaning "beyond the known world" - before scientists could say for sure whether it was one object or two.

Despite the slender connection point, the two lobes are "soundly bound" together, according to Moore.

The images we have of the object now show no obvious impact craters, but there are hills and ridges.

If confirmed, this configuration could represent a precious snapshot of planetary formation in action, supporting the idea that the massive, orbiting bodies in our inner solar system assembled in part through the rapid coalescing of pebbles and dust. It's located in the Kuiper Belt, an icy region of our solar system beyond the orbit of the major planets.

"Different kind of rocks", he said.

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. You can learn so much more about the New Horizon mission to Pluto here.

While some have compared Ultima Thule to a snowman, others to a peanut.

Moore said "we're basically looking at the first planetesimals", which served as building blocks for what would eventually become planets.