The leaders of the New Horizons space mission shared the first results of the study of the asteroid Ultima Thule. The probe's asteroid approach occurred at the end of 2018, and now scientists have analyzed the data collected by the device in nearly six months of work.
We recall that Ultima Tule is located near the orbit of Pluto in the Kuiper belt, and its size ranges from 25 to 45 km. Astronomers first discovered it using the Hubble orbital telescope.
During the passage beyond the asteroid, the apparatus was able to obtain data not only on the presence of satellites and rings, but also to measure the parameters of the asteroid, to estimate its age and the possible theory of origin.
For astronomers, the Kuiper belt is of particular interest, since this remote part of the Solar System still remains little known, but there are many objects that have never been heated by the Sun at high temperatures and therefore retain many properties of the original substance from which the Solar System was formed.
The New Horizons spacecraft flew over the Ultima Thule asteroid on 1 January 2019, but due to the vast amount of information gathered and a great distance from the Earth, the data arrived at the observatory only recently. Astronomers make it clear that this is not all data, and in the end the probe will send all the information only by mid-2020.
Now the scientists have shared the information they have been able to collect and process.
Ultima Tule's asteroid turned out to be a classic body of the Kuiper belt, that is, it belongs to a class of objects with stable orbits in a shape close to the circumference and with a small inclination to the plane of the ecliptic.
As expected, the shape of the asteroid is similar to a snowman or a matryoshka and its size is about 30 kilometers. This form suggests that the astroid was not formed as a result of a collision, but due to the coupling of two celestial bodies, which were formed side by side and circulated around a single center of mass.
Furthermore, Ultima Tula found no satellites, signs of the presence of a comet tail, the atmosphere or the surrounding dust clouds.
The surface of the asteroid is rather dark, because it reflects little light. The body of the asteroid has a reddish color.
The New Horizons probe was also able to measure the astroid temperature, which is about 42 Kelvin. Astronomers have explained that at this temperature, carbon monoxide, methane and molecular nitrogen should have evaporated during the life of the solar system.
We are pleased that we have succeeded in bringing the New Horizons together. This information has already given us many things to think about. Waiting for new data, – the mission leaders concluded.