Ultima Thule looks like a snowman

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At four billion miles from the Sun, Ultima Thule is the most distant world ever explored by a spacecraft from Earth.

Image caption: This image, taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager, is the most detailed of Ultima Thule returned so far by the New Horizons spacecraft. It's located in the Kuiper Belt, an icy region of our solar system beyond the orbit of the major planets. It is also a bilobate or compact binary object, meaning that it is composed of two separate objects that are now joined. "This is exactly what we need to move the modeling work on planetary formation forward". Ultima Thule's story is only beginning, but it's already making history-and back here on Earth, the team can hardly contain their excitement. He's a rocket scientist by day and rock star by night.

New Horizons reached Pluto in July 2015 and revealed an unbelievable planet, rich in detail and structure.

"What this spacecraft and this team accomplished is unprecedented", said Alan Stern, the mission's principal investigator, before unveiling the first images.

The hope is that the course of the spacecraft can be altered slightly to visit at least one more Kuiper belt object sometime in the next decade. "That's elation", he said.

Ultima Thule in colour.

Additionally, the New Horizons team can now definitely say that-just as the images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope several years ago tentatively predicted-Ultima Thule's hue is a toasty brownish-red.

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"This thing was born somewhere between 99 percent and 99.9 percent of the way back to T-zero (liftoff) in our solar system, really incredible", Stern said. In this peripheral layer of icy bodies and leftover fragments from the solar system's creation, the interplanetary probe will position its seven on-board instruments for the first close-up glance of Ultima Thule, a cool mass roughly 20 miles (32 km) long and shaped like a giant peanut.

Ultima Thule's unique, lumpy appearance was achieved when two chunks of matter collided at extremely slow speed - perhaps even as slow as as two cars nudging together, the team states.

Further, there's no evidence of damage at the point of contact, indicating that the joining of the two bodies was gentle, and not a catastrophic collision. "You don't need to fill out any paperwork".

There are hundreds of thousands of Kuiper members like Ultima, and their frigid state nearly certainly holds clues to how all planetary bodies came into being some 4.6 billion years ago.

That means that Ultima Thule is likely an object that dates back to the formation of the solar system, as scientists suspects prior to the flyby.

New Horizons rocketed from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2006.

"The primary association of Thule and Ultima Thule are with travel and exotic places and cold places - it's associated with travel gear, it's associated often with distant places in Greenland", he told Newsweek. Many more photos are expected to be released soon.

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