The New Horizons team just released a new image of Ultima Thule, and it’s the most detailed photo of the Kuiper Belt object (KBO) yet. In it, one can see many of the surface features that were not very apparent in the earlier images.

Most Detailed Ultima Thule Image

On Feb. 22, the New Horizons mission team released images of Ultima Thule that were captured mere minutes before the spacecraft’s closest approach during the historic Jan. 1 flyby. During those few minutes, the team precisely pointed the cameras on New Horizons to take the sharpest possible photos of Ultima Thule. Fortunately, the team has now confirmed that their so-called stretch goal was a success.

The processed complete picture is actually a combination of nine images captured by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on New Horizons about six minutes before it made its closest approach to the Ultima Thule. They have a resolution of about 33 meters (110 feet) per pixel, and the good angle and high spatial resolution allow the team to investigate the surface of the KBO believed to be the most primitive object ever encountered by a spacecraft.

Risky Goal

According to New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, the team had to know the moment-by-moment location of both New Horizons and Ultima Thule in order for them to get these images.

“These 'stretch goal' observations were risky, because there was a real chance we'd only get part or even none of Ultima in the camera's narrow field of view. But the science, operations and navigation teams nailed it, and the result is a field day for our science team! Some of the details we now see on Ultima Thule’s surface are unlike any object ever explored before,” said Stern.

Fortunately, because of the team’s efforts, we now have the most detailed of Ultima Thule, as the images show details on the KBO’s surface that previous images were unable to capture. According to Project Scientist Hal Weaver, the latest images may have the highest spatial resolution among the images taken, or will ever be taken, by New Horizons in its entire mission.

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