On January 1 New Horizons encountered the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule. Some 6.5 billion kilometers from the Sun, Ultima Thule is the most distant world ever explored by a spacecraft from Earth. This historic image, the highest resolution image released so far, was made at a range of about 28,000 kilometers only 30 minutes before the New Horizons closest approach. Likely the result of a gentle collision shortly after the birth of the Solar System, Ultima Thule is revealed to be a contact binary, two connected sphere-like shapes held in contact by mutual gravity. Dubbed separately by the science team Ultima and Thule, the larger lobe Ultima is about 19 kilometers in diameter. Smaller Thule is 14 kilometers across.
Nextbigfuture Commenter Goatguy Shares How Impressed He Is by the Ultima Thule Space Mission
Mankind has lobbed a space probe 6.5 BILLION kilometers off, and come within 3,000 km of this tiny contact binary. It just boggles the mind — well at least mine.
A pair of Kuiper Belt Objects (KBO’s), apparently “gently in contact”, very probably shortly after the formation of the nascent Solar System. Untouched. Oh… you can tell by looking that they have had their encounters with a few scathing impactors, but really, they’re pretty good looking for 4.5 billion years whizzing around the sun. Actually, more like “slowly cruising”, since their solar orbit is at 42 to 46 AU.
Using the formula, (period = AU to the 3/2 power), and geometric mean: M = sqrt( A * B ), we have
period = ((A * B) to the 1/2 power) to the 3/2 power
period = (A * B) to the 3/4 power.
period = (42 * 46) ^ (3/4)
period = 291 years
and to get orbital velocity, we have to use
velocity = [ 2π sqrt( 42 * 46 ) · 149.5e6 km/AU ] / (291 * 365.25 * 24 * 60 * 60)
velocity = 4.5 km/sec
By comparison, Earth is rather more “whizzing” around Sol, at 29.8 km/s.
Wouldn’t it be something to someday land on Ultima Thule (pronounced “UL-tim-uh, THOO-lee”)?
Also, its personal, but I’m as pleased as punch that the contact pair have been dubbed Ultimate (the larger) and Thule (the smaller). Cute.
Anyway, just more goatbits.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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