Evidence of water found on Ultima Thule : NASA

Nagpur : National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has found evidence for a unique mixture of methanol, water ice, and organic molecules on Ultima Thule’s surface — the farthest world ever explored by mankind. The US space agency has published the first profile of Ultima Thule — an ancient relic from the era of planet formation — revealing details about the complex space object.

Analysing just the first sets of data gathered during the New Horizons spacecraft’s New Year’s 2019 flyby of the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 — nicknamed Ultima Thule — unveil much about the object’s development, geology and composition. Researchers are also investigating a range of surface features on Ultima Thule, such as bright spots and patches, hills and troughs, and craters and pits on Ultima Thule. The largest depression is a 8-kilometer-wide feature the team has nicknamed Maryland crater — which likely formed from an impact. Some smaller pits on the Kuiper Belt object, however, may have been created by material falling into underground spaces, or due to exotic ices going from a solid to a gas and leaving pits in its place. In colour and composition, Ultima Thule resembles many other objects found in its area of the Kuiper Belt.

Its reddish hue is believed to be caused by modification of the organic materials on its surface. According to the research published in the journal Science, the team found evidence for methanol, water ice, and organic molecules on Ultima Thule’s surface — a mixture very different from most icy objects explored previously by spacecraft. “We’re looking into the well-preserved remnants of the ancient past,” said Alan Stern of the South-West Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “There is no doubt that the discoveries made about Ultima Thule are going to advance theories of solar system formation,” said Stern, Principal Investigator of the New Horizons mission. Ultima Thule is a contact binary, with two distinctly differently shaped lobes, NASA said.

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