Most distant space object ever explored resembles reddish snowman

New Horizons Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman after the team received confirmation from the New Horizons spacecraft that it has completed the flyby of Ultima Thule

NASA scientists on Wednesday released the first pictures of Ultima Thule - sent back 4 billion miles by the New Horizons probe.

The tiny, icy object resembles a snowman in the photo, which is just the first of a whole host of data that the space agency hopes to receive back.

"Studying Ultima Thule is helping us understand how planets form - both those in our own solar system and those orbiting other stars in our galaxy", Moore said. That will change as later images, taken at different angles, are sent back, Moore said.

"This flyby is a historic achievement,"Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement". A NASA spacecraft opened the New Year at the most distant world ever explored, a billion miles beyond Pluto.

There are no obvious signs Ultima Thule has been significantly disturbed since it came together as the solar system formed, the researchers said.

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. But Stern said that the phrase Ultima Thule is hundreds, if not a thousand, years old, and is apropos because it means "beyond the known universe" in Latin.

Just one day has made a startling difference in how we view this mysterious Kuiper Belt object. The Thule Society, founded in 1918 around this and other occultist beliefs, later became the Nazi Party. As such, scientists still aren't entirely sure how the planets of the Solar System got their start.

In addition to the clip, NASA also shared an artist's rendering, along with a theory about how Ultima Thule could have formed over time, beginning with a rotating cloud of icy bodies. The comment was greeted with applause by New Horizon team members and their supporters.

Ultima Thule is over 40 times farther from the Sun than Earth; this deep in outer space, temperatures clock in around -400 degrees Fahrenheit-and these frigid, Sun-starved conditions can make for fairly pristine preservation.

The mission team has chose to call the larger lobe "Ultima" and the smaller lobe "Thule".

An earlier image of the spinning ball of dust and ice, captured by the spacecraft from about 500,000 kilometres out, was so fuzzy and grainy Dr Stern told those gathered at the press conference it was "OK to laugh".

The selection of Ultima Thule as a next target after New Horizons' July 14, 2015 flyby of Pluto was largely determined by its being one of the more promising candidates that could be reached on its trajectory without a significant - and fuel-consuming - change of course.

Among other things, Ultima Thule has been compared to a giant space turtle, a fat bowling pin and "Kenny from South Park".

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