NASA has revealed recently that Ultima Thule – the distant Kuiper Belt object that was just recently observed by New Horizons spacecraft – doesn’t have any atmosphere or at least there is no evidence that the object contains any atmosphere.
New Horizons grabbed yet another record to put under its belt of conducting the the farthest flyby in history when it came within about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometres) of Ultima Thule at 12:33 am EST on January 1, zooming past the object at more than 32,000 miles (51,000 kilometres) per hour. NASA is publicly releasing a lot of data that is being captured by the New Horizons spacecraft as it makes observations of the KBO.
Ultima Thule doesn’t have rings or satellites larger than one mile in diameter either, the data from New Horizons has shown. Observations reveal that the colour of Ultima Thule matches the colour of similar worlds in the Kuiper Belt.
The two lobes of Ultima Thule—the first Kuiper Belt contact binary visited—are nearly identical in colour. This matches what we know about binary systems which haven’t come into contact with each other, but rather orbit around a shared point of gravity, NASA said.
Data transmission from New Horizons will pause for about a week while the spacecraft passes behind the Sun as seen from here on Earth. Data transmission resumes January 10, starting a 20-month download of the spacecraft’s remaining scientific treasures.
Located 6.5 billion kilometres from Earth, Ultima Thule means “beyond the known world”. The New Horizons flyby of Ultima Thule could help scientists better understand what conditions were like when our Solar System formed billions of years ago. New Horizons’ extended mission also includes observations of more than two-dozen other Kuiper Belt objects, as well as measurements of the plasma, gas and dust environment of the Kuiper Belt.