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New Horizons’ Big Reveal On MU69: Ultima Thule Is A Typical ‘Future Comet’

28 Jan 2019, 15:01 UTC
New Horizons’ Big Reveal On MU69: Ultima Thule Is A Typical ‘Future Comet’
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2014 MU69 is thought to have originally been two objects, nicknamed ‘Ultima’ and ‘Thule’, that formed over time from a rotating cloud of small, icy bodies. Comparison with known cometary nuclei suggest that Ultima Thule will become a typical comet if it enters the inner Solar System. (NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)We’d never flown past or imaged a small, isolated Kuiper belt object before. Here’s what we know so far.As 2018 ended and 2019 began, NASA’s New Horizons flew past its first target after Pluto: 2014 MU69.Ultima Thule is barely a blip in images (left) from the New Horizons spacecraft. The remote world stands out more when the stars have been removed (right); the dark blobs are artifacts from imperfect star subtraction. Yellow crosshairs mark Ultima’s position. Until just a few days before its arrival, 2014 MU69 (Ultima Thule) was no more than a single pixel in New Horizons’ detectors. (NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)Nicknamed Ultima Thule, it’s transformed from a single pixel in our detectors to a red-hued, mottled snowman.The first color image constructed (via a composite from New Horizons data) of 2014 MU69: Ultima Thule. The reddish color is likely due to tholins: the same reddish color visibly present on the surface of Charon. (NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)The first ...

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