Asteroids

Blogs about asteroids

Ultima Thule has a shape even stranger than expected

NASA and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory have published new images of the Kuiper belt Object cataloged as 2014 MU69 and nicknamed Ultima Thule along with animations that show new details of its shape. A sequence of 14 images captured by the New Horizons space probe during its January 1, 2019 flyby shows that the this object’s two lobes are not vaguely spherical as it seemed but in particular the larger one is definitely flat, to the point that it was compared to a pancake, and it’s not clear why it has that shape.

Artist’s impression of a planetesimal (Image courtesy Ko Arimatsu / NAOJ. All rights reserved)

An article published in the journal “Nature Astronomy” reports the discovery of a planetesimal, which is an object of the type that probably formed planets, dwarf planets and asteroids, with an estimated radius of about 1.3 kilometers in the Kuiper Belt. A team led by Ko Arimatsu of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) used two 28 cm amateur telescopes using the occultation technique in a 60-hour monitoring. The analysis of the data revealed what appears to be a planetesimal whose presence has long been predicted by the models of planetary formation but had never been identified.

Some details on the geology of Ultima Thule

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which collaborates with NASA at the New Horizons mission, has published a new image of the Kuiper Belt Object cataloged as 2014 MU69 and nicknamed Ultima Thule which offers more details of its geological features. Various pits, the great depression on the smallest lobe, the “collar” that joins the two lobes, clear and dark features will be studied to get answers to the many questions posed after receiving the first images taken by the space probe in its New Year’s Day 2019 flyby.

Ultima Thule offers the first answers but leaves many questions open

In a press briefing that included a number of scientists working on NASA’s New Horizons mission, the first discoveries on the Kuiper Belt object cataloged as 2014 MU69 and nicknamed Ultima Thule were presented, obtained thanks to data received during the January 1, 2019 flyby. They’re based on information that’s still incomplete, which could be contradicted by high resolution photos and other data but for the moment this object doesn’t appear to have neither moons nor rings, or at least not of relevant sizes, no impact craters were found on its surface nor were traces of atmosphere.

Ultima Thule is made up of two smaller asteroids

NASA published the first detailed images of the Kuiper Belt object cataloged as 2014 MU69 and nicknamed Ultima Thule. Captured by the New Horizons space probe’s LORRI and MVIC instruments approximately 90 to 30 minutes before its closest approach, they finally clearly show this object’s double-lobe structure. In jargon, it’s called a contact binary and is the result of two close objects that collide at low speed and end up merging. The larger lobe has been nicknamed Ultima and the smaller Thule.