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The First Clear Photos of an Object at the Edge of the Solar System


NASA has released the first clear, close-up photos of an object at the edge of our Solar System. The photos of Ultima Thule were captured by the New Horizon’s spacecraft during its flyby on January 1st, 2019, 4.1 billion miles (6.6B km) away from Earth.

Here’s the blurry photo of Ultima Thule that New Horizons captured on December 31st before its closest approach — the photo is the first shot of the most distant object ever visited by a spacecraft:

Then yesterday, NASA released new photos from the closest approach flyby itself, and the images give us a much clearer view of what the distant 21-mile-long (34km) Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) looks like:

Here’s a sharpened version of the original version:

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.

New Horizons also captured this first color image of Ultima Thule:

This photo was captured from 85,000 miles (137,000km) away at 4:08 Universal Time on January 1st. The left photo was shot by the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC), which combines near-infrared, red, and blue channels. The center is the LORRI shot. Finally, the right photo is the detail of the LORRI image with the color from the MVIC image overlaid.

During its flyby of Ultima Thule 13 years after its launch, New Horizons recorded about 7 gigabytes of photos and data. That data will now be beamed back to researchers here on Earth over the coming days and weeks.

Image credits: Photographs by NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute