SCIENCE

Scientists Show Off Space Snowman, Ultima Thule, In 3D

Jan 4, 2019, 5:06 PM | Updated: 5:19 pm
(Image courtesy NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institu...
(Image courtesy NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)
(Image courtesy NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

LAUREL, Md. (AP) — The newly visited space snowman — the most distant object ever explored — is now appearing in 3D.

At a news conference Thursday, scientists and others put on 3D glasses to see the city-size, two-sphered cosmic body in stereo, revealing possible curvy ridges. Ultima Thule, as it’s known, is still not showing any signs of craters, moons or rings.

Photos taken by NASA’s spacecraft New Horizons during a flyby earlier this week revealed that Ultima Thule (TOO-lee) has two reddish globes joined by a narrow neck, much like a snowman. It is 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) from Earth.

Brian May, an astrophysicist better known as a guitarist with the rock band Queen, created the stereo images released Thursday. He joined in the New Year’s Day flyby festivities at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, home to Mission Control.

“The Prize!! For those of us who waited with bated breath for the Ultimate Stereo of Ultima Thule … here it is!” tweeted May.

Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, said he expects to know within weeks or months, once better images arrive, whether Ultima Thule has any tiny moons or faint, narrow rings. He suspects there might be at least a couple moons a few hundred miles (kilometers) out. The data covering that area are still aboard the spacecraft, he noted.

As for impact craters, lead scientist Alan Stern said he’d be surprised if none turn up. If they are there, they will create a window into the interior “so they’re super valuable tools.”

For the next several days, data transmission will be halted temporarily because of the sun’s position smack between Earth and Ultima Thule, creating radio interference.

It will take nearly two years for all of the data to be transmitted to Earth, given the vast distance.

Ultima Thule is deep within the so-called Kuiper Belt, or Twilight Zone, well beyond the orbit of Neptune. 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.

Since Tuesday’s close approach, New Horizons is already 3 million miles (5 million kilometers) deeper into that mysterious region. It will keep pressing farther out, observing other objects from afar, and measuring dust and particles.

Stern hopes to get another mission extension from NASA, so another flyby can be arranged sometime in the 2020s.

In the meantime, he’ll come up with a formal name for Ultima Thule, to recommend to the International Astronomical Union, the deciding body. He acknowledged its current nickname may wind up on the short list.

“Everybody knows it as Ultima Thule,” he noted.

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HELLO CROSS-EYED FREE-VIEWING FOLK ! This is for you !! If you had trouble viewing the last image I posted, try this trick. OK ? Ready ? Hold the phone just where it is right now, at your usual working distance. Now hold your first finger straight up and move it to a position about half way between your eyes and the phone – but a little lower down so it covers up a bit of the writing at the bottom. LOOK AT YOUR FINGER ! Now gradually let yourself become aware that something is happening with the images on the phone ! If you move your finger slightly towards your face and then back out again, you’ll become aware that although those pictures on the phone now seem slightly blurry, you can still see them – and instead of just two pictures they look like FOUR. As you move your finger, they slide back and forth across each other, looking slightly ghostly – transparent. See that ? And at one particular position of the finger the two pictures closest to the centre of your view perfectly overlap – they sit on top of each other. Right ? If they don’t quite sit right, gently tilt the phone (rotate) back and forth until they actually LOCK into one image. So now instead of seeing four images you see THREE. Now you can forget about the outer pictures. Just concentrate on the CENTRE one. That’s where the magic is going to happen. OH ! Did it already happen? Do you now see one image floating in space just above your finger ? And if you just relax, does it come into focus ? THIS IS YOUR 3-D IMAGE ! Just sit and let the magic happen. You’ll now see that this central image gives you a picture that is just as solid and real as your finger ! OK ? If it doesn’t work the first time, just read this again and try one more time. In almost every case, I will guarantee that the magic will happen. Yes, there are just a few people who do not have the sensation of stereopsis, usually because they had some problem with their eyes when they were an infant. I have read an account of someone who actually trained her eyes to give her stereopsis at the age of 40, but that’s another story. OK. If this works, TELL ME ! OK ?! Bri

A post shared by Brian Harold May (@brianmayforreal) on

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Scientists Show Off Space Snowman, Ultima Thule, In 3D