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Astro Bob

Pancakes Anyone? Ultima Thule Flatter Than We Thought

10 Feb 2019, 17:01 UTC
Pancakes Anyone? Ultima Thule Flatter Than We Thought
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Departure movie of Ultima Thule made with 14 images taken after New Horizons made its closest approach on Jan. 1, 2019.
Farewell Ultima Thule! This evocative video was made just after closest approach to Ultima Thule on New Year’s Day when New Horizons was speeding past at over 31,000 miles an hour (50,000 km/hour). See all those stars? Not only do they provide a breathtaking backdrop, but it turns out that they were crucial to determining the object’s true shape. When the first photos were beamed back, it looked for all the world like two approximately spherical bodies joined at the neck. Some of us went so far as to call it a snowman. But further analysis of these latest photos reveal that Ultima, the larger of the two halves, is shaped more like a pancake, while Thule has been compared to a dented walnut.
The top view is how we thought we understood Ultima Thule’s shape. The bottom view is the team’s current best shape model for Ultima Thule, but there’s still some uncertainty since the entire region was in shadow. The dashed blue lines show the uncertainty — the object could be either flatter than, or not as ...

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