January 2, 2019 | David F. Coppedge

Initial Views of Ultima Thule from New Horizons Show Young Object

Ultima Thule, the farthest object ever visited up close by a spacecraft, looks like a snowman.

New Horizons, the spacecraft that already made history with its stunning photos of Pluto in 2015, has just made history again. On New Year’s Day 2019, it flew just 2,200 miles above the surface of a Kuiper-Belt Object (KBO) named Ultima Thule (technically, 2014 MU69). New Horizons not only survived the encounter, controlled by engineers 4 billion miles away on earth, but captured images and data that will take 20 months to fully download from that vast distance.

NASA released the first low-resolution color images today (see Space.com). Mission scientists remarked that it looks like a snowman more than a peanut or bowling pin, as earlier faint images suggested. Its two lobes are either lightly touching or welded together. Scientists decided to refer to the bigger lobe as Ultima, and the smaller lobe as Thule.

Color image, higher-resolution B/W image, and combined image.

As with the Pluto encounter, high-resolution images will take days or weeks to download. Principal investigator Alan Stern said, “It’s just going to get better and better.” Already, though, some hints of color and large features are visible. The object has a definite reddish cast, probably from space weathering of surface material. Leah Crane at New Scientist says the following about curious shape of the object:

New Horizons co-investigator Jeff Moore said that because the two lobes show no obvious signs of damage from a collision, they probably hit one another slowly, at about a walking pace. “If you had a collision with another car at those speeds, you might not even bother to fill out the insurance forms,” he said.

Yet surely it must strike scientists as surprising that two objects would approach each other with such low energy as to stick together rather than blast each other into smithereens. Could such an arrangement survive billions of years of rotation and perturbations by other passing objects?

MU69 appears to be a pristine planetary building block, or planetesimal, left over from the early solar system, so researchers hope that it will tell us about the formation of the planets. “What we’re looking at is essentially one of the first planetesimals,” said Moore, “These are the only remaining basic building blocks in the backyard of the solar system.”

And yet the planetesimal hypothesis has been coming under fire in recent years (22 December 2018). Leah Crane says the object is “rock covered with weird ice,” possibly composed of methane and nitrogen.

Update 1/03/19: “The team says that the two spheres likely joined as early as 99 percent of the way back to the formation of the solar system” (Science Daily). Nowhere does anyone question how two fragile objects could avoid divorce for 4.5 billion years.

Juno Io Is Young, Too?

A different spacecraft that is at Jupiter, named Juno (29 June 2017), imaged a volcanic plume on the little moon Io that stands out prominently on the speck of image taken 186,000 miles away, reports Space.com. This must have been a major eruption to be visible from that far. Meghan Bartels says, “The activity is spurred by Jupiter’s massive gravity tugging at the moon,” but she fails to mention whether that kind of dynamic activity could continue for 4.5 billion years.

Secular reporters usually fail to connect the dots. This may be on purpose. They will make contradictory statements in isolation so that the public doesn’t see the trick. The quote above about Io is a prime example: on the one hand, Jupiter causes Io to erupt (but no mention of age). On the other hand, the Jupiter system is alleged to be 4.5 billion years old (but no mention of the activity). Critical thinkers have to connect those two statements to see the age problem, because the moyboy media will never do it for you.

Prediction time: The high-resolution images and data from New Horizons will surprise planetary scientists with evidence of youth on Ultima Thule. The mission scientists will express great surprise and bafflement over surface features, a possible atmosphere, or activity that contradict the alleged age of the object. Based on previous discoveries, it’s a pretty safe bet, but we shall see.


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