Ultima Thule

WHATis New Horizons?

  • The New Horizons is an interplanetary space probe launched by the U.S.-based National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on January 19, 2006, with the primary mission of performing a flyby of dwarf planet Pluto in the Kuiper Belt.
  • On July 14, 2015, the probe made a flyby of Pluto. Post this, scientists at NASA adjusted its course in such a way that it could make a close encounter with Ultima Thule on Jan 1, 2019.

WHATis the objective of the Ultime Thule flyby?

  • Ultima Thule or 2014 MU69 was discovered using the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014. Scientists were searching for an object in the Kuiper Belt that the spacecraft could study after Pluto and they selected Ultima Thule as it could be reached using the remaining fuel on the probe. New Horizons came within 3,500 km of Ultima Thule, three times closer than the spacecraft’s encounter with Pluto.
  • The objectives of the flyby include studying the geology and morphology of Ultima Thule and surveying its environment to detect moonlets, comas (a coma is a cloud of particles surrounding the nucleus of a comet), or rings, if any.

WHATdo we know about Ultima Thule?

  • • Ultima Thule is a small lump of rock and dirty ice that orbits the sun in the Kuiper Belt.
  • • It is approximately 33 km long with a rotation period of about 15 hours. It is very dark, reflecting only about 10 percent of the light that strikes it. It is red in colour.
  • • The object is shaped like a bowling pin or a snowman, elongated with two lobes.

HOWdid Ultima Thule form?

  • Ultima Thule is a contact binary. Contact binary is any solar system body composed of two bodies that have gravitated towards each other until they touch each other or merge to share their gaseous envelopes.
  • Scientists say that Ultima Thule probably formed from small particles in the original solar disk of gas and dust. They might have come together at such a gentle speed that they are sort of resting on each other, forming the bi-lobed object visible today. Scientists named the larger lobe Ultima and the smaller one – Thule.

WHEREis the Kuiper Belt?

  • The Kuiper Belt is a ring of icy objects, that begins near the orbit of Neptune and continues beyond Pluto. The Kuiper Belt Objects (including Ultima Thule) are thought to be remnants left over from the formation of the solar system. Besides Pluto, Eris, Makemake and Haumea are the other known dwarf planets in this belt.

WHYis this flyby important?

  • The flyby will not only throw light on Ultima Thule and the Kuiper Belt, but also on the solar system. Hovering in the cold outer reaches of the solar system, the object is preserved in its pristine, prehistoric state, allowing scientists to take a look into the distant past, to know more about the formation of the solar system.


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