In the first images released of Ultima Thule, the object looked like two spheres — kind of like a snowman. The latest photo shows a very different perspective.
Ultima Thule is Surprisingly Flat
Published: February 13, 2019
Onscreen: New images of Ultima Thule reveal a surprising twist ... it’s flat.
Anne Verbiscer: The spacecraft actually had to fly past the target and look back, almost towards the sun.
The only way you’d still be seeing stars in some of those places was if it was flat.
Onscreen: On New Year’s Day, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew by Ultima Thule, 4 billion miles from Earth.
In the first images, the object looked like two spheres – kind of like a snowman.
But the latest photos show a completely different perspective.
Verbiscer: It is "M&M's." Only you don't see the side of the "M&M."
John Spencer: We always love it when we’re wrong and we see something that we don’t expect. We’re seeing something that is so strange and wonderful.
Onscreen: The discovery could have a big impact on how scientists think about planet formation
Verbiscer: Why would something accumulate material preferentially in one direction to make it flat?
It’s a great puzzle to solve. Now we have to figure out, “how does this happen?”
Onscreen: It will be several months before all the data collected by New Horizons gets to Earth
Spencer: It's very early days yet. We've really only convinced ourselves that this was real in the last couple of weeks. We’re still piecing together all the clues about the shape.
Digital Producer: Emily Zendt, Ana Aceves
Additional visuals: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, NASA
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2019