NASA's New Horizons' team released the first close-up images from Ultima Thule on Wednesday afternoon. New Horizons scientists have begun to analyse the first data sent back by the spacecraft. NASA dubbed the larger lobe Ultima, and the other, which is about three times smaller, Thule.
An analysis of the picture showed that Ultima's brightest spots reflect 13 percent of the light that falls on them, while the darkest spots reflect only 6 percent.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine congratulated NASA's New Horizons team, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and the Southwest Research Institute for "making history". By combining images taken by multiple instruments we get a good idea of Ultima Thule's color.
During its closest approach at 12:33 a.m. EST on January 1, New Horizons passed within just 2,200 miles (3,500 km) of the mysterious bowling-pin-shaped rock, collecting data all the while.
The first detailed images beamed back from the USA agency´s New Horizons mission allowed scientists to confidently determine the body was formed when two spheres, or "lobes", slowly gravitated towards each other until they stuck together - a major scientific discovery.
Alan Stern, the lead investigator for the mission, said, "It's two completely different objects that are now joined together".
In a press conference this afternoon, they've released their latest batch of results.
Eventually, these two bodies remained, slowly spiralling closer until they touched, forming Ultima Thule. More data on Ultima Thule is streaming back to NASA at this very moment, so expect additional announcements in the coming days. The centre image taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) has a higher spatial resolution than MVIC by approximately a factor of five. The comment was greeted with applause by New Horizon team members and their supporters.
Moore said it appears the two spheres came together gently, at speeds of perhaps 1 or 2 miles per hour - not in some violent collision in space.
Mr. Stern added that images acquired when New Horizons flew around the side of 2014 MU69 will create a better phase angle between the Surface and the sunlight and should allow the team to make a "definitive determination and ultimately will count the number of craters" on MU69. It is the first contact binary NASA has ever explored. He said Ultima Thule was selected as 2014 MU69's informal nickname because its ancient meaning provided a "wonderful meme for exploration". But researchers think radiation in this dark and distant part of the solar system could interact with contaminants in the ice, changing their color.
"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". It takes a long time for data to travel million of miles across space - and the first images downloaded by NASA scientists showcased only a fuzzy peanut-like shape.