Streaking through space at almost nine miles per second, NASA's New Horizons probe closed in on a frozen remnant of the solar system's birth Monday, on track for a historic New Year's Day flyby of the most distant body ever explored.
Ultima Thule is a heavenly body mercifully located around 6.5 billion km away from Earth.
The pictures from Ultima Thule were revealed on Wednesday.
Scientist say new data coming in could uncover what the surface of the icy rock looks like, what it's made out of and how it formed.
New Horizons conducted its successful flyby of Ultima Thule, which is classed as a minor planet, on Tuesday.
Scientists have ascertained that the object takes about 15 hours to make a full rotation. It is also a bilobate or contact binary object, meaning that it is composed of two separate objects that are now joined.
The object looked sort of looked like a fuzzy bowling pin.
"The bowling pin is gone".
"This thing was born somewhere between 99 percent and 99.9 percent of the way back to T-zero (liftoff) in our solar system, really incredible", Stern said. The mission team have chose to name the larger mound (or the body) Ultima, and the smaller mound (or the head) Thule. The object was first observed using the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014 and is approximately 19 miles in diameter at its widest point. But already, they said, their first close-up view of Ultima Thule confirms current theories about how the planets of our solar system first came into being. It must be approved by the International Astronomical Union, which oversees all names in space.
Regardless, New Horizons is fully operational according to scientists and will continue traveling through the Kuiper Belt as it travels out for nearly another 10 years. "It's a snowman!" lead scientist Alan Stern informed the world from Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, home to Mission Control. "'Beyond the limits of the known world' - that's such a handsome metaphor for what we're doing this year". It took us five years to build it. It's also the very first time a binary object has been studied up close, and it's a fantastic opportunity for NASA to learn more about how these unique formations work.
Next week, the spacecraft will be unable to transmit any data due to radio interference from the sun.
The first image (shown at top), was taken by the spacecraft's Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) at 05:01 UTC (01:01 EDT) on January 1st, 2019. The spacecraft is affectionately referred to as Ultima Thule, and May has fittingly applied the nickname to his own song. Initially, the New Horizon's team believed that the object was a spherical chunk of ice and rock measuring 18-41 km (10-30 mi) in diameter.