NASA Unveils Cool Video Of Ultima Thule, Capturing The Object’s ‘Propeller-Like Rotation’

'The rotation period of Ultima Thule is about 16 hours, so the movie covers a little under half a rotation.'

3D illustration of Ultima Thule.
Meletios Verras / Shutterstock

'The rotation period of Ultima Thule is about 16 hours, so the movie covers a little under half a rotation.'

As NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft continues to beam back fresh images from its epic flyby of Ultima Thule, new data on the contact binary is made available to the public.

The latest downlink from New Horizons featured a series of snapshots taken by the probe’s Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) which have been stitched together in a short video released yesterday by the space agency.

The 35-second clip, which you can watch above, shows Ultima Thule as seen by the New Horizons spacecraft during its approach to the Kuiper Belt object and includes images that were taken in the hours before the historic flyby on New Year’s Day, explain mission officials from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) in Laurel, Maryland.

The photos, which are available in raw form in the JHUAPL LORRI archive, were snapped by the New Horizons probe between 3 p.m. ET on December 31, 2018, and 12:01 a.m. ET on January 1, 2019, and capture the rotation of the contact binary in unprecedented detail.

“This movie shows the propeller-like rotation of Ultima Thule,” JHUAPL representatives said in a statement, noting that the images have been “sharpened using scientific techniques that enhance detail.”

“The rotation period of Ultima Thule is about 16 hours, so the movie covers a little under half a rotation.”

“During this deep-space photo shoot — part of the farthest planetary flyby in history — New Horizons’ range to Ultima Thule decreased from 310,000 miles to just 17,100 miles, during which the images became steadily larger and more detailed,” JHUAPL detailed on its website.

These latest photos beamed back by New Horizons include two different image sequences — one that shows the snapshots at their original relative sizes (bottom sequence) and another that corrects the perspective by taking into account the spacecraft’s changing distance from Ultima Thule (top sequence), so that the object “appears at constant size, but becomes more detailed as the approach progresses.”

“Among other things, the New Horizons science team will use these images to help determine the three-dimensional shape of Ultima Thule, in order to better understand its nature and origin.”

The rotation sequence of Ultima Thule as imaged by the New Horizons probe ahead of the January 1 flyby.
The rotation sequence of Ultima Thule as imaged by the New Horizons probe ahead of the January 1 flyby. NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/National Optical Astronomy Observatory

Officially dubbed 2014 MU69, the 21-mile-long contact binary nicknamed Ultima Thule is now famously known as a reddish space “snowman,” per a previous report from the Inquisitr. Located some 4 billion miles from Earth, this small, icy world is made up of two connected spheres and is the farthest object to ever be visited by a man-made spacecraft, as well as the first contact binary in the Kuiper Belt to be explored up close.

The first color image of Ultima Thule, which revealed the object’s reddish hue, was relayed on January 2. Meanwhile, the two highest-resolution photos to be included in the newly released video were downlinked immediately after the January 1 flyby. The more distant images, however, were beamed back between January 12 and 14, after New Horizons moved further away from the sun and into a more favorable position that enabled a stronger downlink connection.

The probe will continue to send back data from its flyby of Ultima Thule for several months to come.