Nearly three years after New Horizons space probe visited Pluto, the probe has flown past another Kuiper Belt object, Ultima Thule. The original target of the probe was Pluto which when the probe was launched, Pluto was classified as a planet, however since then it has been designated a dwarf planet, a controversial decision made in the middle of the last decade.
Ultima Thule was only discovered recently, 26th June 2014 by scientists working on the Hubble Space Telescope project. The object was called 2014 MU69 but was renamed by the I.A.U. because of its significance.
The probe had been designed and built to visit Pluto but as its job had been done, it was reprogrammed to visit Ultima Thule which was in its path. Ultima Thule is the furthest object ever visited by a man made object. Pluto is about 4.5 billion kilometers away with Ultima Thule an additional 2 billion more kilometers away. Although Ultima Thule is the current record holder, it is likely to be succeeded when N.A.S.A. have decided on where and what next it will visit.
Ultima Thule has been referred to as a Cosmic Snowman due to its shape and similiarity to a snowman. It seems quite apt given the season in which the United States is currently experiencing, Winter. It had been thought that Thule was two objects but instead early pictures have shown it to be two objects seemingly merged into one.
Only fuzzy images currently exist of Thule, it is believed we will get back a high resolution picture in due course. The probe has picked up seven gigabytes of data as it flew past which will take months to be transmitted back to Earth and analyzed.
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