UPDATE: Ultima Thule is not the first contact binary visited by a human spacecraft. The European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission previously explored a comet of this shape between 2014 and 2016 — the famous comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, which also originated in the Kuiper Belt. “Ultima is, however, the first contact binary in the Kuiper Belt ever explored up-close,” NASA clarified today via Twitter.
One day after NASA released the first clear photos of Ultima Thule — a 21-mile-long celestial body visited by the New Horizons spacecraft on New Year’s Day — the unique object has taken Twitter by storm.
Identified as a contact binary — the first one to ever be explored by a man-made spacecraft — Ultima Thule lies deep within the Kuiper Belt, almost 4 billion miles from Earth, or about 6 light-hours away.
The mysterious icy object was revealed yesterday to be made up of two differently-sized spheres, fused together in the early days of the solar system, as reported by the Inquisitr. The big unveiling occurred during a live webcast that featured two detailed photos of Ultima Thule acquired by the New Horizons spacecraft shortly before its closest approach to the Kuiper Belt object on January 1.
The new pics were the first to showcase the true shape, structure, and color of Ultima Thule and were snapped by two imagers on board the New Horizons probe — a high-resolution black-and-white camera and lower-resolution color camera. Taken about 32 minutes and 95 minutes prior to the closest approach, the flyby photos showed that Ultima Thule was oddly shaped like a snowman and sported a reddish hue.
The highly-anticipated photos caused quite the sensation — particularly given that not much was known about Ultima Thule since its discovery in 2014.
Soon after the images were made public, David Eicher, editor-in-chief of Astronomy magazine, shared a lovely photo of New Horizons team member Mallory Kinczyk holding a clay model of Ultima Thule.
— David Eicher (@deicherstar) January 2, 2019
It wasn’t long before the fascination with this enigmatic, ancient object floating at the edge of the solar system sparked a hilarious range of posts, unveiling new faces of Ultima Thule.
A Twitter account dedicated to the captivating Kuiper Belt object shared a second version of the Mallory Kinczyk photo, in which Ultima Thule is depicted wearing an adorable pair of glasses.
— 2014MU69 ???? Ultima Thule ✨✨✨ (@2014Mu69) January 3, 2019
In another post, shared by ABC journalist Nathan Bazley, the mysterious celestial body is portrayed as a snowman.
“I feel so sorry for our remote snowman friend slowly rotating in complete isolation,” Bazley wrote on Twitter.
— Nathan Bazley (@NathanBazley) January 3, 2019
Game developer Sos Sosowski had the same idea, sharing a photo of Ultima Thule disguised as Olaf, the lovable snowman from the Disney movie Frozen.
Do you wanna build an Ultima Thule? pic.twitter.com/ADwbkbT1EZ
— Sos Sosowski (@Sosowski) January 3, 2019
Meanwhile, a number of Ultima Thule fans noticed the resemblance between the contact binary and iconic Star Wars character BB-8, the brave droid that make heart-warming appearances in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
— Paul Alejandro (@paulalejandro84) January 2, 2019
Graphic designer, illustrator, and photographer Franciszek Skoryna made his own contribution to the Ultima Thule/BB-8 scenario.
— Franciszek Skoryna (@Franek1964) January 2, 2019
Last but not least, Jeff Setzer of the 3D engineering company GSC shared a snapshot of one of his Star Wars-themed Christmas ornaments, describing it as a “handmade model of Ultima Thule.”
My sister-in-law gave me a handmade model of #UltimaThule last week! @Jmsetzer how did she know what it looked like before the @NewHorizons2015 flyby?? ???? @starstryder @deicherstar @mjkinczyk pic.twitter.com/MMAdJPEmat
— Jeff Setzer (@astrosetz) January 3, 2019