The Chinese have been heralded by the international press for landing an unmanned probe on the Moon. While it’s a big deal for China, I guess, we landed men there several times including dune buggies for them to cruise around on, fifty years ago. Does that put China fifty or more years behind the USA? Yes, and no. They want to put their own people on the Moon, and they’re working on it. But as with the Russians, they haven’t been able to close the deal. This lunar landing serves to remind us that China still has a space program.
Scientists from NASA’s New Horizons mission released the first detailed images of the most distant object ever explored — the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule. Its remarkable appearance is unlike anything we’ve seen before.
This image taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) is the most detailed of Ultima Thule returned so far by the New Horizons spacecraft. It was taken at 5:01 Universal Time on January 1, 2019, just 30 minutes before closest approach from a range of 18,000 miles (28,000 kilometers), with an original scale of 730 feet (140 meters) per pixel.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
“This flyby is a historic achievement,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “Never before has any spacecraft team tracked down such a small body at such high speed so far away in the abyss of space. New Horizons has set a new bar for state-of-the-art spacecraft navigation.”
The new images — taken from as close as 17,000 miles (27,000 kilometers) on approach — revealed Ultima Thule as a “contact binary,” consisting of two connected spheres. End to end, the world measures 19 miles (31 kilometers) in length. The team has dubbed the larger sphere “Ultima” (12 miles/19 kilometers across) and the smaller sphere “Thule” (9 miles/14 kilometers across).
The team says that the two spheres likely joined as early as 99 percent of the way back to the formation of the solar system, colliding no faster than two cars in a fender-bender.