The space snowman known as 2014 MU69 or Ultima Thule added to its celebrity today by showing up on the cover of the journal Science, with the first peer-reviewed results from an encounter with NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft laid out within.
Close study of the two-lobed object — which orbits 4 billion miles from the sun within a sparse belt of icy material known as the Kuiper Belt — could shed light on how the solar system was formed, said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute.
“We’re looking into the well-preserved remnants of the ancient past,” Stern said in a news release. “There is no doubt that the discoveries made about Ultima Thule are going to advance theories of solar system formation.”
Most of the findings published today came out informally in the aftermath of New Horizons’ flyby on New Year’s Day, but the research paper summarizes everything that’s been learned to date — and points to mysteries yet to be solved.