The Pictures are Here! New Horizons Close Up View of 2014 MU69

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The team unveiled new images received late in the day yesterday, and it's now clear that Ultima Thule, a distant, icy Kuiper Belt Object lying 4 billion miles away, is a contact binary.

The excited scientists of the New Horizons team led by principal investigator Alan Stern discuss their findings so far.

The two-balled shape reminded others of BB-8, the plucky droid from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens".

The team has nicknamed the larger lobe "Ultima" and the smaller lobe "Thule" - much the same way they gave unofficial names to the regions and features of Pluto and Charon before submitting the names for formal approval to the International Astronomical Union.

This are only the first images from the probe, captured at a resolution of about 140 meters per pixel. Initial images suggested it resembled a bowling pin. The bowling pin image is "so 2018", joked Stern, who is with the Southwest Research Institute.

Ultima Thule was formed by the joining of objects orbiting around each other.

"It's only really the size of something like Washington DC and it's about as reflective as garden-variety dirt, and it's illuminated by a sun that's 1,900 times fainter than it is outside on a sunny day here on the Earth", he said. "And it's illuminated by a sun that's 1,900 times fainter that it is outside on a sunny day on Earth, So we're basically chasing it down in the dark at 32,000 miles per hour".

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New Horizons, designed by and managed from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, has been speeding toward the edge of the solar system for 13 years. At right, the color was draped over the black and white image.

First, the scientists must work on the Ultima data, but they will also ask NASA to fund a further extension to the mission. It is also a bilobate or compact binary object, meaning that it is composed of two separate objects that are now joined.

It showed Ultima Thule, formally known as 2014 MU69, is actually a pair of reddish spheres that have been fused together by gravity, they said. The smaller sphere is "Thule", measuring 14 kilometres across.

"New Horizons is like a time machine, taking us back to the birth of the solar system". Then the balls would have been gently drawn together by their mutual gravitational attraction, he said. More than 100 scientists, including Heidi B. Hammel, a planetary scientist and a media liaison for the science team, gathered at 8 p.m. for a look.

This means we're truly seeing one of the first planetesimals, or objects, that went on to form planets.

He added: "These are the only remaining basic building blocks in the back yard of the solar system that we can see that everything else that we live on, or receive through our telescopes, or visit with our spacecraft, were formed from".

It will take as long as 20 months for scientists to download and process all the data collected during their brief encounter with Ultima Thule, scientists said.

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