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CAPE CANAVERAL (CBSMiami) – NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is beaming back images from 4-billion miles away.
In its sights was an icy object nicknamed Ultima Thule, which may reveal secrets of the universe.
NASA’S mission team is celebrating the first clear look at its most distant target; an icy object more than 4-billion miles from earth.
The first image was a blurry bowling pin but now better pictures are arriving.
“That bowling pin is gone,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator. “It’s a snowman, if it’s anything at all. It’s only really the size of Washington D.C. and it’s about as reflective as garden variety dirt.”
They call it Ultima Thule meaning “beyond the known world.”
The New Horizons spacecraft snapped the picture during a flyby on New Year’s Day.
It sent the image through space, one pixel at a time, to mission headquarters in Maryland.
“We were basically chasing it down in the dark at 32 thousand miles an hour and all that had to happen just right,” Stern said.
Ultima Thule sits on the frozen fringes of our solar system. Scientists believe it was formed over 4-billion years ago, out of two separate lobes.
“There are no obvious impact craters and there are suggestions of hills and ridges,” said Jeff Moore, New Horizons Geology and Geophysical Lead. “We think what we are looking at is perhaps the most primitive object that has yet been seen by any spacecraft.”
The New Horizons spacecraft has been in flight since 2006 and had its unprecedented rendezvous with Pluto in 2015.
It’s now a billion miles beyond that point and still hurtling towards the outer edge of the solar system.
The best close-ups of Ultima Thule won’t arrive until February.
Those images should reveal whether it has any rings, moons, or craters.