"The shape model we have derived from all of the existing Ultima Thule imagery is remarkably consistent with what we have learned from the new crescent images", said New Horizons co-investigator Simon Porter. The two-lobed object, nicknamed Ultima Thule, is actually flatter on the backside than originally thought, according to scientists.
"We had an impression of MU69 based on the limited number of images returned ian the days around the flyby, but seeing more data has significantly changed our view", mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute, said in a statement.
Mission scientists created this "departure movie" from 14 different images taken by the New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) shortly after the spacecraft flew past the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule (officially named 2014 MU69) on January 1, 2019. The larger lobe, nicknamed "Ultima", all the more intently looks like a giant hotcake and the smaller lobe, nicknamed "Thule", is formed like a dented walnut.
"It would be closer to reality to say MU69's shape is flatter, like a pancake", Stern added. But more importantly, the new images are creating scientific puzzles about how such an object could even be formed. That glowing crescent visible in the darkness was actually blurred in the individual frames due to the extended exposure time used to give the camera's signal level a boost during what was a really rapid scan. "Nothing quite like this has ever been captured in imagery". Mission scientists have been able to process the image, removing the motion blur to produce a sharper, brighter view of Ultima Thule's thin crescent.
When viewed from the front, Ultima Thule still resembles a two-ball snowman.
As New Horizons drifted through space at a speed of approximately 50,000kph, it was able to snap a number of wonderful photos of the object officially known as 2014 MU69.
In order to deduce the object's shape, scientists watched the background stars on the images.
In 2015, New Horizons successfully flew past Pluto, which revealed that the dwarf planet is surprisingly diverse, Space.com reported.
New Horizons still has much more data to send back to Earth, as its data connection over the 44.4 astronomical units (6.6 billion km) is pretty slow.
The images that shocked New Horizons' scientists will be available on the New Horizons LORRI website this week.
Ultima Thule, or more specifically Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69, is a so-called trans-Neptunian binary rock in the Kuiper Belt, a field of asteroids in the outer reaches of the solar system. "This will undoubtedly motivate new theories of planetesimal formation in the early solar system".
The latest pictures were taken when New Horizons was about 8,000km from the object.