early images showed two circular lobes that when most simply extrapolated to 3D were thought to be, roughly, spheres. However, analyses of newly beamed-back images -- including many taken soon after closest approach -- shows eclipsed stars re-appearing sooner than expected. The only explanation possible is that this 30-km long Kuiper belt object has a different 3D shape than believed only a few weeks ago. Specifically, as shown in the featured illustration, it now appears that the larger lobe -- Ultima -- is more similar to a fluffy pancake than a sphere, while the smaller lobe -- Thule -- resembles a dented walnut. The remaining uncertainty in the outlines are shown by the dashed blue lines. The new shape information indicates that gravity -- which contracts more massive bodies into spheres -- played perhaps less of a role in contouring the lobes of Ultima Thule than previously thought. The New Horizons spacecraft continued on to Ultima Thule after passing Pluto in mid-2015. New data and images are still being received.
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NASA Official: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA / GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.
Based on Astronomy Picture Of the Day
Publications with keywords: kuiper belt
Publications with words: kuiper belt