NASA‘s space snowman is showcasing some new information about its location, far beyond Pluto. After over a year following its close meeting with the object shaped like a snowman, the New Horizons probe is still gathering information and sending it to the controllers on Earth from over four billion miles away.
“The data rate is painfully slow from so far away,” said Will Grundy of Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, one of the lead authors.
The Object Has a Shape Similar to M&Ms
Astronomers announced on Thursday that the isolated, primitive cosmic object known as Arrokoth, is the most distant celestial body ever analyzed, and it is relatively smooth with just a few craters. It is completely ultrared as well, or highly reflective, which is common in the distant Twilight Zone of our Solar System, known as the Kuiper belt. The red color it has indicates organic molecules.
Even though frozen methane is existent, no water has been detected as of yet in the object, which is about 22 miles long in diameter. New Horizons‘ chief scientist Alan Stern from the Southwest Research Institute said that its size was that of Seattle.
When it comes to the snowman shape, it is not that flat on the rear side as scientists earlier believed. Neither one of the spheres are completely round, but they aren’t similar to some flat pancakes, as the researchers previously reported; they are somehow resembling M&Ms.
The cosmic body has no rings or satellites orbiting it, and the light cratering implies that Arrokoth is about 4.5 billion years old, dating back to the development of the Solar System. It has, most probably, created by a slow and smooth merger between two individual bodies that likely were an orbiting couple. The outcome is what scientists call a contact binary.
Spacecrafts Will Study in Detail the Kuiper Belt
New Horizons passed by Arrokoth on January 1st, 2019, after about three years following the spacecraft’s flyby Pluto. Initially monikered Ultima Thule, the cosmic body has since received an official name in November. Arrokoth means ‘sky’ in the Native American Powhatan people’s language.
The probe was launched in 2006, and it is now about 316 million miles further from Arrokoth. The team of researchers is seeking other potential targets to analyze at the moment, and advanced ground telescopes are being built to help observe this region of the sky.
Future technology will allow scientists to develop a program that could put a spacecraft in orbit around Pluto, about three billion miles away, as per Stern. After a few years, that probe could be sent deeper into the Kuiper Belt to observe other dwarf planets and cosmic bodies.
The New Horizons researchers reported their most recent discovery at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in three different studies published in the journal Science.
Davit Jewitt from the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not in the research team that studied the snowman object, said that a flyby mission similar to that of the New Horizons is almost ideal.
“For future missions, we need to be able to send spacecraft to the Kuiper Belt and keep them there” in orbit around cosmic bodies, Jewitt wrote in a companion paragraph in the journal Science. That would allow “these intriguing bodies to be studied in stunning geological and geophysical detail,” he said.