As readers know, I totally geek out with NASA missions and this week is no exception. This is the long awaited image of Ultima Thule (“beyond the known world”) and it is provided by the most distant ever exploration of a Solar System object. The previous record was the New Horizons image of Pluto in 2015. Ultima Thule is 1.5 billion km further out. Thought to be the shape of a bowling pin, it turns out to be a 4.5 billion-year old, brick-colored cosmic snowman in the cold of deep space. Closer to home: this week saw China land the first probe on the dark side of the Moon.
It orbits the Sun on the edge of the Kuiper belt, where its debris and dwarf planets composed of hundreds of thousands of objects was only itself discovered in 1992. Ultima was not even known to exist until 2014.
Formerly, Ultima was believed to be two objects as scientists had dubbed the bigger sphere Ultima and the smaller one Thule. Thule is estimated to be 9 miles while Ultima is thought to be 12 miles. It is “a primordial planetesimal” that it unaltered by the sun and thus in its new original condition. That makes it enormously interesting to scientists.
For me it is just a hair-on-end moment. This object has been out there for billions of years in a region that we only relatively recently discovered. We now have its picture from a man-made object speeding at nine miles a second out into the unknown of space beyond our universe.
Ok, nerd out over.