Nasa shows first photo of distant world from New Horizons probe

This union was not violent; the two bodies came together at about walking speed, in a meetup more akin to a spacecraft docking than to a collision, said Jeff Moore of NASA's Ames Research Center, the leader of New Horizons' geology and geophysics team.

"#UltimaThule used to be two separate objects". Then the spheres slowly spiralled closer to each other and stuck together. "We are seeing a physical representation of the beginning of planetary formation, frozen in time". Studying it could offer insights to how Earth and the other planets formed.

The actual shape of 2014 MU69 (blue) compared to 2017 Earth-based stellar occultation shape estimate (red). Ultima Thule is about 20 by 10 miles (32 by 16 kilometers) in size, but its composition is still unknown. Stern said the spacecraft will resume transmitting in mid-January. "This is how science works".

Kuiper Belt Objects, of which Pluto is the largest, are especially interesting because they are thought to retain some of the Solar System's original building material, left undisturbed after billions of years.

It is hoped the information taken from Ultima will provide clues as to the formation of the Solar System. And we're getting to know those borders.

The new length measurement of 33 km (21 miles).

The main priorities for the research is mapping Ultima Thule's surface, as well as looking for any potential moons and rings. The researchers learned that the unexpectedly low variation in the light curve came from the shape-two spheres rotating have a smaller change in their surface area from the spacecraft's point of view than an ellipse would.

That small, icy, and distant rock New Horizons photographed is known as, not your father, but Ultima Thule (pronounced "TOO-lee").

The body is roughly 19 miles long and completes its own rotation in about 15 hours.

The ice world also is a relatively dark object, reflecting very little light. Note the reduced red colouring at the neck of the object. It was the furthest world humankind has ever explored in space.

While much higher-resolution images will provide a better sense of the topography and geography of 2014 MU69, what is now known is that the bottom, larger lobe ("Ultima") contains changes in elevation greater than one kilometer and that the upper, smaller lobe ("Thule") may contain a plateau feature.

The images released so far are "just the tip of the iceberg", he said, adding only 1% of data stored on the spacecraft has now been received by scientists. Stern. "We're not saying there aren't craters". Though it appeared to be bowling pin-shaped, its actual structure has remained hazy until now.

Vanessa Coleman