New 3D images show detailed view of Ultima Thule
Scientists on NASA’s New Horizons team have created the most detailed 3D image of Ultima Thule to date by combining pictures of the Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) taken from a variety of angles by the spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI).
Combining high-resolution images taken from different angles produces what is known as the “binocular effect,” which makes it possible to see an object in three dimensions.
The processed images used to create to create the 3D view were captured by LORRI at a distance of 17,400 miles (28,000 kilometers), with a resolution of 430 feet (130 meters) per pixel at 12:01 a.m. EST (05:01 GMT) Jan. 1, 2019, and at a distance of 4,100 miles (6,600 kilometers), with a resolution of 110 feet (33 meters) per pixel, at 12:26 a.m. EST (05:26 GMT) that day.
Although the closer images have higher resolution than the more distant ones, their quality is lower because they were taken with much shorter exposure times. However, this does not lessen the quality of the combined 3D image, which when viewed with 3D glasses provides the most accurate yet view of the KBO’s surface features and actual shape.
“These views provide a clearer picture of Ultima Thule’s overall shape, including the flattened shape of the large lobe, as well as the shape of individual topographic regions, such as the ‘neck’ connecting the two lobes, the large depression on the smaller lobe, and hills and valleys on the larger lobe,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado.
Ultima Thule is located four billion miles (6 billion kilometers) from Earth, and these detailed images will give scientists valuable insight into the KBO for many years.
“We have been looking forward to this high-quality stereo view since long before the flyby. Now, we can use this rich, three-dimensional view to help us understand how Ultima Thule came to have its extraordinary shape,” said New Horizons deputy project scientist John Spencer, also of SwRI.
Return of all flyby data will take a total of 20 months.
Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.