New Horizons is the same spacecraft that made mankind’s first ever visit to Pluto and which gathered the amazing pictures of Pluto in 2015. It’s next target was the Ultima Thule, an object in the Kuiper Belt, which is a billion miles beyond Pluto. The New Horizons spacecraft encountered the Ultima Thule on New Years, i.e. 1st January, 2019 at 12:33 a.m. EST, and sent back some amazing pictures of the Ultima Thule. This marked yet another first for the New Horizons spacecraft as it is the farthest planetary flyby in human history.
NASA confirmed that there have been no evidences of an atmosphere or rings or satellites larger than one mile in diameter orbiting the Ultima Thule. It is the first contact binary in the Kuiper Belt ever explored. The shape of the Ultima Thule resembles an inverted snowman and it matches the colour of similar worlds in the Kuiper belt. The two loves of the Ultima Thule are nearly identical in colour and NASA tweeted the following explaining the formation of the Ultima Thule.
#UltimaThule used to be 2 separate objects. It likely formed over time as a rotating cloud of small, icy bodies started to combine. Eventually, 2 larger bodies remained & slowly spiraled closer until they touched, forming the bi-lobed object we see today: https://t.co/ZuxLDtzW9c pic.twitter.com/FwWDAaAdey
— NASA (@NASA) January 2, 2019
Data transmission from the New Horizons spacecraft will stop for a week as it passes from behind the sun, as seen from Earth and the transmission resumes on January 10th After the Ultima Thule, it will observe more than two dozens of the objects in the Kuiper Belt as well as the measurements of the Kuiper Belt.