From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Ultima Thule
Mains level : Significance of the Mission
- NASA has found evidence for a unique mixture of methanol, water ice, and organic molecules on Ultima Thule’s surface — the farthest world ever explored by mankind.
- Ultima Thule is a contact binary, with two distinctly differently shaped lobes.
- At about 36 kilometres long, it consists of a large, strangely flat lobe — nicknamed “Ultima” — connected to a smaller, somewhat rounder lobe — dubbed “Thule” — at a juncture.
- Officially named (486958) 2014 MU69, it earned the nickname Ultima Thule following a public contest in 2018.
- It is located in the Kuiper Belt, a disc in the outer Solar System (beyond Neptune) that consists of small bodies including Pluto.
- 2014 MU69 was discovered in June 2014 by astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope but is so distant that many of its characteristics remain to be understood.
About the mission
- New Horizons, a space probe that was launched in 2006, became the first mission to visit Pluto in 2015.
- Travelling farther into the Kuiper Belt, the nuclear-powered space probe has come within 3,500 km of Ultima Thule.
- Images taken revealed that the object may have a shape similar to a bowling pin, or a “snowman”, or a peanut spinning end over end, or could be two objects orbiting each other.
- Flyby data showed that Ultima Thule is spinning like a propeller with the axis pointing approximately toward New Horizons.
- NASA released a composite of two images taken by New Horizons’ high-resolution Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager.