These past few weeks witnessed absolutely amazing discoveries in the field of space and astro-photography.
At 6.6 billion kilometers away, saying that Ultima Thule is far away doesn’t really do justice to the descriptor “far.” For some point of reference, the Sun is approximately 149.6 million kilometers away from the Earth. Ultima Thule is of a magnitude much, much greater than that. Another point of reference: Former last planet Pluto is about 5.9 billion miles away from the center.
Captured by the New Horizon spacecraft on January 1st, Ultima Thule’s first picture looks much like a bowling pin with one end thinner than the other. A 34 kilometer long Kuiper Belt Object (KBO), Ultima Thule occupies a region of space filled with such objects but which is too far away for detailed observation here on Earth. As described above, this region exists pretty far away from the center of the solar system and taking a picture of any object at this distance is a feat worthy of praise.
New Horizon’s Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) captured an even clearer picture which shows the object’s shape and form as well as some detail of its surface. Color photographs of the object also reveal much the same with a peach tint to the photo. The closest the New Horizon came to the object, 28,000 kilometers, was more than enough to provide scientists with some of the best data yet on a Kuiper Belt Object. In total, New Horizons captured some 7 GB worth of data on the object.
The journey to reach Ultima Thule took 13 years – an epic journey by any stretch. The pics of Ultima Thule joins the China National Space Agency’s release of pictures of the far side of the moon just recently (you can read that article here). Hopefully these events indicate a renewed space race – and more awesome photographs to come..