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Cool Kuiper Belt findings turn into a cover story

2014 MU69 / Ultima Thule
Different geomorphological regions on the Kuiper Belt Object known as 2014 MU69 or Ultima Thule could hint at how the icy object was formed billions of years ago. (NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI / Stern et al. / Science)

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.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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