During the first hours of the new year, 2019, NASA’s New Horizon arrived at its destination, far beyond the orbit of Pluto – Ultima Thule. The small space rock orbiting the Sun within the Kuiper Belt is like a so-called “snowman” asteroid, meaning that’s made of two united boulders. Ultima Thule also has a weird orbit around its axis. But all that pales before the recent findings of NASA’s New Horizons – Ultima Thule is a “future comet.”
Even though it is not active, Ultima Thule conforms with the scientific knowledge about cometary nuclei, meaning that the distant “snowman” rock is nothing else than an inactive, “future comet.”
Since NASA’s New Horizons approached its target, the space probe sent dozens of images of Ultima Thule and hundreds of readings on the space rock’s behavior. When compared with comets such as Halley’s, Hartley 2, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and many more, Ultima Thule looks like them.
NASA’s New Horizons Revealed That Ultima Thule Is A “Future Comet”
The icy materials on comets, which are very volatile, change phase quickly when exposed to sunlight. Ultima Thule also presents icy matter on its surface and in its core, and it’s even rotating in the same manner the before-mentioned active comets did. However, due to the significant distance between it and the Sun, its ice remains stable, stopping Ultima Thule from turning from a cometary nucleus into an active comet.
Ultima Thule is, therefore, the most mysterious space rock scientists ever studied, so far. Its “snowman” shape, structure, rotation, and behavior are now making astronomers believe they found an intact cometary nucleus. It would be the first one scientists snapped right in its place of formation and origin.
NASA’s New Horizons, which still has a lot of work to do with Ultima Thule, is expected to fly to another distant object in the Kuiper Belt in 2020 if it remains operation until then.
Jasmine holds a Master’s in Journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto and writes professionally in a broad variety of genres. She has worked as a senior manager in public relations and communications for major telecommunication companies, and is the former Deputy Director for Media Relations with the Modern Coalition. Jasmine writes primarily in our LGBTTQQIAAP and Science section.