Ultima Thule is a trans-Neptunian object located in the Kuiper belt, a circumstellar disc in the outer Solar System. It is the farthest object ever explored by a NASA’ spacecraft. Analyzing the information gathered during the New Horizons spacecraft flyby of Ultima Thule, NASA has found evidence of a unique combination of methanol, water ice and organic molecules. The scientists are carrying out a study into its surface feature like hills and troughs and craters, one of the largest depression being eight-kilometer wide. Ultima Thule has a reddish color due to the modification of the organic material on its surface layer.
“There is no doubt that the discoveries made about Ultima Thule are going to advance theories of solar system formation,” noted Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of the New Horizons mission.
36 kilometers long, Ultima Thule is comprised of a large lobe named “Ultima” connected to smaller one nicknamed “Thule”. As per NASA, the uncommon shape relates to how they formed billions of years ago. It is quite likely that the binary’s orbital momentum must have dissipated for them to come together, however is not yet known whether that was due to aerodynamic forces from gas in the ancient solar nebula, or if Ultima and Thule ejected other lobes that formed with them to dissipate energy and shrink their orbit. As far as the scientists can know it is possible that Ultima Thule’s two lobes once orbited each other, like many so-called binary worlds in the Kuiper Belt and they became tidally locked until something brought them together in a “gentle” merger.
The New Horizons spacecraft is 6.6 billion kilometers from Earth speeding at 53,000 kilometers per hour deeper into Kuiper Belt and we expect to gather all its data no earlier than later summer of 2020.
Chris Mcfadden is the lead editor for Swerd Media. Chris has written for several online publications including the Huffington Post, Vanity Fair and Bleacher Report. Chris is based in Los Angeles and covers issues affecting California. When he’s not busy writing, Chris enjoys traveling and hiking.