'Cosmic snowman' turns out to be more of a 'cosmic pancake'

'Cosmic snowman' turns out to be more of a 'cosmic pancake'

'Cosmic snowman' turns out to be more of a 'cosmic pancake'

"It would be closer to reality to say Ultima Thule's shape is flatter, like a pancake", Alan Stern, who heads the New Horizons mission, said in a statement.

Instead of a snowman, Ultima Thule is better described as a dented walnut smashed with a pancake. We've never seen something like this orbiting the Sun.

New Horizons captured the last-look images on January 1 at 12:42 a.m. EST, when it was 5,494 miles (8,862 kilometers) beyond the Kuiper Belt object. The image to the left is an "average" of ten images taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager; the crescent is blurred in the raw frames because a relatively long exposure time was used during this rapid scan to boost the camera's signal level. At right: A sharper processed version of image, which removes the motion blur.

'That bowling pin is gone, ' the leader of the New Horizons joked, in reference to the first blurry images sent home after the flyby. The probe arrived to the dwarf planet in July 2015, showing the extremely unique look of Pluto that scientists hadn't seen before. The New Horizons spacecraft has the mission to obtain more information about it, and this is exactly what it managed to do. As more data were analyzed, including several highly evocative crescent images taken almost 10 minutes after closest approach, a "new view" of the object's shape emerged.

Viewed from the front, Ultima Thule still resembles a two-ball snowman, but from the side, the snowman looks squashed, like a lemon and a pie stuck together end to end.

The incredible images confirmed some predictions and dispelled others, revealing MU69 to be a snowman-shaped world with a rusty red hue that spins end-over-end like a propeller.

When New Horizons beamed back its first images of Ultima Thule, the Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) and most distant object ever explored by humans, scientists and the press excitedly noted that it appeared to be an ancient contact binary composed of two spherical shapes compressed at their point of mutual contact. The dashed blue lines span the uncertainty in that hemisphere, which shows that Ultima Thule could be either flatter than, or not as flat as, depicted in this figure. The photos were taken almost 10 minutes after the probe passed its closest point to the rock.

The photos revealing the flat nature of the mysterious object Ultima Thule are the last of the object.

The images were taken when New Horizons was 5,494 miles (8,862 kilometers) away from Ultima Thule and 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) away from the Earth.

"Nothing quite like this has ever been captured in imagery", said Stern.

As New Horizons drifted through space at a speed of approximately 50,000kph, it was able to snap a number of wonderful photos of the object officially known as 2014 MU69.

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