NASA releases footage of tumbling ‘snowman’ space rock Ultima Thule

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The tumbling space snowman is making its out-of-this-world film premiere.

Scientists from NASA’s New Horizons mission released the first stitched together animation of Ultima Thule (TOO-lee), the most distant object ever explored by humans.

The small, icy object is shown spinning end-over-end like a propeller. 

It is about four billion miles from Earth and looks like a reddish snowman with two fused-together spheres, extending about 21 miles (33 km) in length.

The high-resolution photos which were Scientists say the two lobes of Ultima Thule came together in a ‘gentle’ accretion process, with two objects bound together by each other’s gravity.

The latest movie of Ultima was put together from photos taken New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day as the spacecraft made its closest approach, but not sent back to Earth until the last few days. 

Ultima Thule rotates about every 16 hours so the time-lapsed movie shows seven of those hours. 

Earlier this month, NASA’s New Horizons team began steadily picking apart the first data sent back from its Ultima Thule flyby. 

The same spacecraft also explored Pluto in 2015.

In a final press briefing held on January 3, the space agency released the latest image of the rust-coloured object in the Kuiper Belt, showing our first look at Ultima Thule in stereo.

When viewed with 3D glasses, the image captured by New Horizons’ Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager shows the best view yet of the object’s three-dimensional shape.

The team also revealed new insight on the search for anything in Ultima’s vicinity; so far, they haven’t found any signs of rings or moons, nor evidence of an atmosphere.

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