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Scientific Interpretations Of First Kuiper Belt Flyby Published

Profiles of the most distant world to be explored till date, named 2014 MU69, located in the Kuiper Belt were released by the team at New Horizons, NASA. Analyzing data received during Horizons spacecraft’s flyby of body MU69, they discovered quite complex results. Interpretations and peer-reviewed results were published in the Science journal.

Apart from being 5 billion miles away, it was also a close look into a planetesimal, vital for planet formation. Data summary in the journal revealed the object’s composition, development, and geology. It is contact binary in nature and has 2 lobes. 22 miles long, it has a large, flat lobe that was attached to a small, round lobe. It is a mystery how this came to be.

The lobes probably orbited together before a merger took place. However, scientists don’t know how its orbital momentum dissipated or if it was caused by aerodynamic forces in the early solar nebula.  Thule and Ultima could also have ejected many other lobes.

Alignment of their axes indicates that pre-merger, they were in a tidally locked position. Alan Stern, the principal investigator on the team, stated that these discoveries would advance understanding of our solar system.

Pits and craters, troughs and hills, patches and bright spots of Ultima Thule are being investigated. The biggest depression has been nicknamed Maryland, which is 5 mi wide. Few small pits might’ve been formed by materials falling to underground spaces. Even sublimation processes could be responsible. It represents many Kuiper Belt objects. It is redder and larger than Pluto caused by organic materials being modified. Methanol and water ice were also discovered by the spacecraft.

Current data transmission will continue till summer 2020. More Kuiper Belt bodies will be observed in the future. They are far too distant, but good enough to measure brightness. Dust environment and radiation levels will also be checked. The spacecraft is 4.1 billion miles away from Earth at this point, with a speed of 33000 km/hr.

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George Morris

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