The Astronomy Picture of the Day

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2019 February 28

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Sharpest Ultima Thule 
Image Credit: NASAJohns Hopkins University APLSouthwest Research InstituteNational Optical Astronomy Observatory 

Explanation: On January 1, New Horizons swooped to within 3,500 kilometers of the Kuiper Belt world known as Ultima Thule. That’s about 3 times closer than its July 2015 closest approach to Pluto. The spacecraft’s unprecedented feat of navigational precision, supported by data from ground and space-based observing campaigns, was accomplished 6.6 billion kilometers (over 6 light-hours) from planet Earth. Six and a half minutes before closest approach to Ultima Thule it captured the nine frames used in this composite image. The most detailed picture possible of the farthest object ever explored, the image has a resolution of about 33 meters per pixel, revealing intriguing bright surface features and dark shadows near the terminator. A primitive Solar System object, Ultima Thule’s two lobes combine to span just 30 kilometers. The larger lobe, referred to as Ultima, is recently understood to be flattened like a fluffy pancake, while the smaller, Thule, has a shape that resembles a dented walnut.