These new images were taken from 27,000km away, almost 1/18th of the previous distance, and are clear enough to confirm that Ultima Thule is one body consisting of two connected spheres. The probe made its much-anticipated flyby of the mysterious Solar System object called Ultima Thule early on January 1st, and NASA declared the mission a success after receiving word that the spacecraft gathered a wealth of science data.
The new image also resolved the debate about the nature of Ultima Thule.
Scientists have ascertained that the object takes about 15 hours to make a full rotation.
Scraps of information about Ultima Thule can be found on the web.
John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, the folks responsible for ensuring the New Horizons probe shot past Ultima Thule at just the right time, said the images provide new insight into how planets are formed. New Horizons launched from Cape Canaveral back in 2006 on a primary mission to explore Pluto.
Moreover, its world measures 19 miles (31 kilometers) in length. That's prompted them to dub the big lobe "Ultima" and the small one "Thule".
New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado added: "This flyby is a historic achievement".
It also looks pristine, nearly unchanged since it formed out of a disk of dust and gas that orbited the sun more than 4.5 billion years ago.
This initial look at Ultima Thule was taken from a distance of about 30,000 miles, when the spacecraft was zooming toward the small, distant world. By combining red, blue and near infrared light, the instrument shows Ultima Thule as a reddish-brown color, confirming long-standing data collected through other methods. The center image taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) has a higher spatial resolution than MVIC by approximately a factor of five. Unlike comets and other objects that have been altered by the sun over time, Ultima Thule is in its pure, original state: It's been in the deep-freeze Kuiper Belt on the fringes of our solar system from the beginning.
Both spheres are similar in color, while the barely perceptible neck connecting the two lobes is noticeably less red, probably because of particles falling down the steep slopes into that area. New Horizons's journey into the solar system's past has just begun.
As Helene Winters, New Horizons' Project Manager, indicated, it won't stop there. "In the coming months, New Horizons will transmit dozens of data sets to Earth, and we'll write new chapters in the story of Ultima Thule - and the solar system", she said.