Distant Encounter



NASA’s New Horizons space probe has just completed its latest flyby. Amazingly the the object, 2014 MU69—AKA Ultima Thule—is 44 AU from Earth (44 times our average distance from the sun). It takes light 6 hours for sunlight to crawl out to this remotest tenant of the Solar System.

The little probe has to send all its data back over that distance, the bandwidth is appalling.  So far, New Horizons has only managed to squirt us 1% of its image cache, but still, the pictures are amazing:

Ultima Thule is 33km-long. Each of the two lobes is almost spherical. It probably formed right at the dawn of the Solar System, over 4 Billion years ago from a drifting cloud of snow balls.

It has a reddish tinge, probably from the same methane based organics as found on the North pole of Pluto’s moon Charon.

Super cool stuff!

I am looking forward to the new images that should be coming in soon at much higher resolution.
New Horizons is still going strong, at 58,000 km/h, and has enough fuel and power for another 20 years! (assuming the native pond life in charge down here doesn’t further cut NASA’s budget.)

 

Oh, and Happy New Year!    🙂