NASA Releases First Visuals of Space 'Snowman' Ultima & Thule

The two spheres spiralled closer to each other and eventually got stuck together. Consequently, scientists suspect that these ancient objects have been preserved in relatively pristine condition since the beginnings of the still-forming solar system, some 4 billion years ago.

"Just like with Pluto, we could not be happier", Alan Stern, the principal investigator for New Horizons, said, recalling the spacecraft's 2015 flyby of that world.

Ultima Thule in colour. The improved resolution also draws attention to the object's "neck", where the two lobes are connected. Now, May has combined both of his loves on "New Horizons", his first solo song in more than two decades.

Laurel, Md. - We are getting our first good look at the most distant object ever explored - a piece of rock spinning way out in space.

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

End to end, the world measures 31 kilometers in length. In an animation created by NASA using three of the images we can see the oblong shape of Ultima Thule, which NASA describes as looking like a bowling pin.

But now, clearer images have revealed a snowman.

Project scientists have named the larger sphere, judged to be about 12 miles across, "Ultima", and the smaller lobe, about 9miles across, "Thule".

A 15-hour rotation rate has also been established for Ultima Thule.

Moore said it appears the two spheres came together gently, at speeds of perhaps 1 or 2 miles per hour - not in some violent collision in space. He joked that if they were cars, "you probably wouldn't fill out the insurance form". It likely began as two separate objects that joined together over time.

So far, no moons or rings have been detected, and there were no obvious impact craters in the latest photos, though there were a few apparent "divots" and suggestions of hills and ridges, scientists said.

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.

The images don't yet reveal much information about topography given the sun angle at the time New Horizons took the image, on approach to Ultima Thule at a distance of about 50,000 kilometers.

Names matter, even when they're temporary nicknames for objects 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) away from Earth. Many more photos are expected to be released soon.

Objects like Ultima Thule, on the other hand, remain in the icy outer crust of our disc-like solar system. Ultima and Thule then engaged in a slow, romantic waltz, circling each other until, at long last, contact was made.

  • Essie Rivera