Smarty Pants Space Watch – Do You Know Ultima Thule?

by, Jo Carol Hebert

Is Ultima Thule the name of:

  1. a basketball player?          2. a Pokemon character?     3. a space rock?

(hint: it orbits the sun)

download (11)Right.  It’s #3. So, now that you’re a ‘rock scientist,’ here’s another question about Ultima Thule.

What’s So Important About This Rock?  Is it:

  1. the first space rock with life?      
  2. the closest space rock to the sun?    
  3. the farthest object in space known to man?

(hint: Ultima Thule means “beyond the unknown”)

Right again. (Don’t you just love it when you know the answer!)

download (12)Where Is This Rock?

Blast off in a spacecraft from earth at 32,000 miles per hour (mph). Head for Pluto. Pass Pluto and head on out into the unknown regions of space beyond.  

Now, you’re over 4 billion miles from earth and you spot a strange new object. (You know it’s a ‘new discovery’ because you’re a ‘rock scientist,’ remember?)

Virtual Space Reality

Actually, a NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Association of the U.S.) spacecraft, download (13)named New Horizons, did blast off to explore Pluto and the Kuiper Belt of ice rocks beyond. This was the outermost limits of our solar system (objects that orbit our Star, the Sun) that had been explored up to the year 2006.

Think Astronomically

download (14)Now, you have to think in really BIG numbers when you’re talking about Space, because here is the timeline of the spacecraft probe named New Horizons.

  • January 19, 2006. New Horizons spacecraft programmed by NASA launched to explore Pluto and beyond.
  • July 14, 2015. New Horizons did a ‘flyby’ just 7,800 miles above Pluto.  (Yeah, that’s right. 9 years later @ 32,000 miles per hour (mph) to get over 4 billion (4,000,000,000) miles out into space. Help!  Do we have some Smarty Pants mathematicians out there?!
  • January 1, 2019. High-tech cameras aboard the spacecraft captured a surprise new object in the Kuiper Belt beyond Pluto.
  • March, 2019. New images of the object reveal new information

Being scientists, NASA named the new object, 2014MU69, which is boring, so someone download (10) decided to nickname it “Ultima Thule,” which is an old word meaning, “a distant, unknown region at the extreme limit of travel and discovery.” Definitely more interesting to think and imagine about!

(Does “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .” sound familiar?!)

Data from this remarkable little R2D2 spacecraft will continue to reach earth into the 2020s. New Horizons will be recording and transmitting k’jillion’s” of bits of information in its limited tech life.  Each new bit of data will take 6 hours from spacecraft receipt of information to reception on earth.

Latest Word on New Horizons/March, 2019

In January, 2019, scientists first described Ultima Thule as ‘like a snowman’ with one large rock of 12 miles connected to a smaller rock of 9 miles.

They called the large rock, ‘Ultima’ and the smaller rock, ‘Thule.’ Further images in March, 2019, have revealed that the two rocks are more flattened, like pebbles, with numerous pitted areas and deeper depressions. They are connected by a ringed ‘collar’ of brightness. And the rock is really, RED, like Mars!

New Horizons to Earth: Stayed connected Space Watchers. Gennady Boris, amateur astronomer, spotted a new comet and they named it after him!  

Keep watching those bright skies. You just never know what you might see . . .

Over and out for now!

1 reply

  1. Fascinating information!! Very interesting to think about how endless space is, and how small earth is in comparison. Great article


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