On January 1, 2019, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) space probe known as New Horizons sent some pictures to Earth. Some of these images were a little blurry – but that’s hardly a surprise. After all, they’d been snapped in an area of space further away from Earth even than Pluto. But blurry or not, the photos may nonetheless provide us with an insight into the workings of the universe.
Fired into space back in 2006, the New Horizons space probe was tasked with investigating the dwarf planet Pluto. Nine years later, it actually managed to snap some detailed photos of the remote rocky body. Then, early on New Year’s Day 2019, it took photos of something else – an object known as Ultima Thule.
Ultima Thule is an unusually-shaped piece of space rock, consisting of two individual objects which have been fused together. These two pieces are individually referred to as “Ultima” and “Thule.” The entity as a whole is situated at a distance of some 4 billion miles from Earth, right at the brink of our Solar System.
Alan Stern was a leading figure in the mission to take these photographs. And speaking to the media in the wake of their unveiling, Stern revealed that Ultima Thule had once been envisioned as having a similar shape to a bowling pin. Now, though, the photos suggested a different form. “That bowling pin is gone,” the scientist asserted. “It’s a snowman, if anything at all.”
It’s thought that analyzing the snowman-shaped Ultima Thule might shed some light on our Solar System’s distant past. That’s because Ultima Thule itself might have a similar form as it did 4.5 billion years ago. As it stands though, information is still being sent from New Horizons back to us here on Earth. And who knows what nuggets of insight this might ultimately contain?