At a news conference in Laurel on Thursday, scientists and others put on 3D glasses to see the two-sphered cosmic body in stereo, revealing possible curvy ridges.
The piano-sized probe is traveling deep into the ring of celestial bodies known as the Kuiper Belt looking for small, icy moons that spun off the snowman-shaped Ultima Thule formation, a pair of icy space rocks that fused in orbit billions of years ago. Scientists with NASA and John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory proudly confirmed the flyby of the New Horizon probe took stunning images of Ultima Thule, a odd Kuiper Belt object located some 4 billion miles away from Earth.
The photo above was captured by the spacecraft's Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) at 5:01 Universal Time on January 1st, 2019, 30 minutes before the spacecraft's closest distance of 18,000 miles (28,000km) from Ultima Thule. "This flyby marks a first for all of us - APL, NASA, the nation and the world - and it is a great credit to the bold team of scientists and engineers who brought us to this point", said Johns Hopkins Applied Physics laboratory director Ralph Semmel.
"The Prize! For those of us who waited with bated breath for the Ultimate Stereo of Ultima Thule. here it is!" tweeted May.
New Horizons' observations indicate that Ultima Thule is about 32 kilometres long and 16 kilometres wide.
As for impact craters, lead scientist Alan Stern said he'd be surprised if none turn up. All of the data from the flyby will take 20 entire months to reach the Earth, so we're going to be in for around two years of new discoveries about this unusual, distant world.
New Horizons' latest target has never been more clear. In 2015, New Horizons first visited Pluto, which is barely in the Kuiper Belt, a full 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) closer to Earth.
Stern hopes to get another mission extension from NASA, so another flyby can be arranged sometime in the 2020s.
Carly Howett, another researcher of the mission, noted that "we can definitely say that Ultima Thule is red", perhaps due to irradiation of ice.