back to article New Horizons probe reveals Ultima Thule is huge, spinning... chicken drumstick?

NASA's teenage New Horizons probe has successfully passed within 2,200 miles of 2014 MU69, some four billion miles from the Sun, three years after taking a close look at Pluto and nearly 13 years after launch. Nicknamed "Ultima Thule" (meaning "beyond the known world"), the object is thought to be a remnant from the formation …

  1. Peter Mount
    Happy

    Next news briefing is at 7pm

    Hopefully we'll see some of the first encounter images (low res) this evening at around 7pm UK time (2pm ET) as that's the next scheduled one on NASA TV

  2. Ugotta B. Kiddingme Silver badge
    Pint

    cracking good science

    How wonderful it is that such feats have become sufficiently routine I'm no longer amazed by them (although I remain suitably impressed). Top notch engineering and astroboffinry.

    1. TVU

      Re: cracking good science

      "How wonderful it is that such feats have become sufficiently routine I'm no longer amazed by them (although I remain suitably impressed). Top notch engineering and astroboffinry"

      I fully agree and project leader Alan Stern has proposed that New Horizons does more flybys of other Kuiper Belt objects which would be good news.

  3. Zebo-the-Fat
    Pint

    Well done

    Well done to everyone involved :)

  4. EmilPer.

    New Horizon only reveals it uses bilinear interpolation

    1. Sandtitz Silver badge
      Coat

      Nah, it's just the first pass of a progressive JPEG.

  5. alain williams Silver badge

    Chicken drumstick

    At 4 billion miles away from the nearest UK school NASA should not be receiving complaints that it is adding to UK child obesity.

    1. wolfetone Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Chicken drumstick

      At least it isn't a smegging garbage pod....

      1. Graham Dawson

        Re: Chicken drumstick

        Just the contents.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Chicken drumstick

        Wolfetone,

        'At least it isn't a smegging garbage pod.... '

        Could be 2 (Binary System) judging fom the extreme lo-res image we have to go from !!!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Beyond the Known World

    > "Ultima Thule" (meaning "beyond the known world")

    Thanks for the clarification. For a while I thought it was named after a set of roof-racks from Halfords.

    Big beer to all those involved. Splendid way to re-start our annual orbit around Sol.

    1. Nick Kew Silver badge

      Re: Beyond the Known World

      It's not that. It's a semi-mythical land at the end of the world. The name goes back to the Greeks, but of course it's a lot more remote and exotic than anything in the Odyssey.

      By going to the end of the world, NASA seems to be saying they can have no possible ambition to go any further.

  7. Stuart 22

    Wot - no selfies!

    Here's me looking at you babe ...

  8. Gronk

    Let me know when the probe detects the remains of the Uranus expedition from 1986.

    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      Let me know when the probe detects the remains of the Uranus expedition from 1986.

      Was that the very unsuccessful and much maligned sequel to Fantastic Voyage?

    2. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
      Coat

      Hotel Ultima Thule

      You can land there anytime you like, but you can never leave.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Alice

    and "Alice", an ultraviolet imaging spectrometer with its roots in instrumentation aboard ESA's Rosetta spacecraft.

    Wait, what? Alice was a name of an instrument on an interplanetary probe? What is wrong with these people? Alice belongs on a Lunar probe.

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: Alice

      And what about the Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation (PEPSSI)

      How much did they pay for that sponsorship?

      May be a good way to raise funds for future probes? The Complete Optical Camera Array - Capturing Otherworldly Light Action

      1. AndyS

        Re: Alice

        And while we're on the topic, who dropped the S in the Radio Science EXperiment's name?

        1. Mephistro Silver badge

          Re: Alice (@ AndyS)

          If they wanted a catchy name,they missed the obvious one: R-SEX!

          1. murakh
            Joke

            Re: Alice (@ AndyS)

            If they wanted a catchy name,they missed the obvious one: R-SEX!

            Wouldn't that be more suited to missions exploring Uranus?

      2. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

        Re: Alice

        Don't give them any ideas... That's how Kryton became stranded on a mission to blow up enough stars to read 'COKE ADDS LIFE!'... Even during the day....

    2. PacketPusher

      Re: Alice

      One of these days Alice! One of these days! Pow! To the moon!

    3. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Alice

      Upvote for the Alice and moon reference.

    4. RegGuy1

      Re: Alice

      Alice? Alice? Who the fuck is Alice?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Alice

        I think she owns a restaurant...

    5. EarthCitizen

      Re: Alice

      Surely the only "alien probes" would be those aimed at Uranus (allegedly, according to popular Hollywood mythology).

    6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Alice

      "Wait, what? Alice was a name of an instrument on an interplanetary probe? What is wrong with these people? Alice belongs on a Lunar probe."

      Well, New World is Living Next Door to Alice, so it kinda fits.

    7. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: Alice

      Alice? Alice, Bob would like to know when you're coming back. Never? Well I suppose we could exchange keys remotely.

  10. Alister Silver badge

    the Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter (SDC)

    Students are well known for producing more dust than any other species.

  11. tfb Silver badge
    Alien

    In a better future ...

    ... when the good images arrive, it's going to turn out to be a dead alien spacecraft, tumbling end over end.

    1. cat_mara

      Re: In a better future ...

      ... or the butt-plug of Galactus :-P

      1. tfb Silver badge

        Re: In a better future ...

        I think that might be a worse future.

  12. Jellied Eel Silver badge

    Scratch one conspiracy theory..

    .. unless the probe is shot down by the defences guarding the Thule Society's sekret base. Secret societies just ain't what they used to be.. unless modern ones have somehow managed to stay secret.

    But I digress. Impressive feat of engineering and astronavigation to find a small rock, a loooong way from home. The naming's a bit suspect though, ie if we find something further out, does it get renamed Penultimate Thule? I also like the idea that the rock could contain cryogenically frozen stuff from the formation of our solar system. Next challenge, figure out how to send samples back. Or a bigger probe with sample extraction and analysis kit onboard.

    1. John Sager

      Re: Scratch one conspiracy theory..

      Delta-V... It's whizzing past at some ungodly speed, so first problem is catch a sample. 2nd is Delta-V back to our vicinity then Delta-V to get into LEO. The fusion drive, when it comes, will obviously solve all of those problems. Where's Mr Spock when you need him?

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Scratch one conspiracy theory..

        Pfft... Delta-V is all relative. Which is also why getting close with probes like this is impressive! And landing something on it would be even more impressive. But some hefty RTGs and an ion drive, it might just work..

        1. W.S.Gosset Bronze badge

          Re: Scratch one conspiracy theory..

          > Pfft... Delta-V is all relative.

          That made me laugh. Nice one.

    2. Mike Moyle Silver badge

      Re: Scratch one conspiracy theory..

      "...if we find something further out, does it get renamed Penultimate Thule?"

      Followed later by Antepenultimate Thule?

      ...then Preantepenultimate Thule?

      I mean -- There's a LOT of stuff out there!

  13. peabody3000

    its no drumstick. like many if not most such far-flung objects.. its a big dick

  14. Andy Non Silver badge
    Coat

    After seeing the images of the flying rock...

    Just to be on the safe side; Gatwick airport has suspended further flights.

  15. Simon Reed
    Alien

    I hope the rock hermit wasn't disturbed

    Good job they didn't direct a laser at the rock - some of those elite rock hermits come out firing.

  16. Huw D Silver badge

    Replace Ultima Thule with Uma Thurman.

  17. DJV Silver badge

    "20 months for the rest of the data to be transmitted back to Earth"

    A bit like the 1980s then, waiting for a CBM-64 to load a game from tape*!

    (* or from a 1541 disk)

    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      Re: "20 months for the rest of the data to be transmitted back to Earth"

      A bit like the 1980s then, waiting for a CBM-64 to load a game from tape*!

      (* or from a 1541 disk)

      That's not too bad, as long as we can all bop along with the Ocean Loader while we wait...

    2. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      Re: "20 months for the rest of the data to be transmitted back to Earth"

      Should try hanging up and calling back. 56K doesn't always work on the first try.

  18. EarthCitizen
    Mushroom

    Ancient but not unchanged

    This is great and a leap for science. Brilliant and look forward to seeing the images.

    But why are these rocks in space described as "ancient" and "unchanged" that could "explain how the solar system was formed". Sorry, but the Earth is also 4+ billion years old and these rocks experience bombardment by other rocks and solar particles and radiation as well as interstellar radiation, so they can hardly be described a "primeval" and as "when the solar system was formed". Yes, they won't have experienced weathering like the Earth does, but still, it is a mistake to assume that they are essentially unchanged. The other thing is that conditions in the Kuiper belt may not be anything like the conditions the Earth experienced in its formation.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: Ancient but not unchanged

      Large inner solar-system objects ike Earth have a lot of things going on that Kuiper-belt objects do not. Apart from the amount of energy being pumped out from the sun, which tends to un-freeze a lot of stuff that would otherwise be frozen in the outer solar-system, the Earth is large enough to have things like plate tectonics going on, not to mention that pesky life thing. The inner solar system is also orders of magnitude busier than the Kuiper Belt, so collisions are much much more common, especially ones involving planetary-sized bodies. We can gain some information from things that hit the Earth (such as chondritic meteorites), but only after they have been cooked by aero-braking, and then battered by litho-braking. That tends to alter the chemical and physical properties quite substantially.

      The amount of 'weathering' outer solar-system objects will have receved will be largely limited to the effects of solar wind particles, and the further you get from the Sun, the less those effects will be.

      1. ibmalone Silver badge

        Re: Ancient but not unchanged

        Indeed. For one example, the oldest rocks known on Earth are zircons (actually small crystals), https://www.livescience.com/43584-earth-oldest-rock-jack-hills-zircon.html and even these date from over 100 million years after the earth was formed. The bit we stand on is literally the crust, inside it's very hot, and over time most things get cycled round and melted.

  19. SkippyBing Silver badge

    'Rounding out the suite is REX, the Radio Science Experiment, which is designed to measure atmospheric pressure and temperature.'

    I'm going to guess low and quite cold.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      <geordie>Whey man, it's a bit nippy, ah might need a wooly pully\ tuh gan wi'me t-short and shorts!</geordie>

  20. spold Bronze badge
    Holmes

    Hmmm...

    This presents the problem as to how to nudge it into a suitable earth grilling trajectory using a close solar fly-by, and then how to efficiently coat it in bbq sauce.

    (Of course with a suitable final re-entry sear, possibly with help from Bruce Willis, and subsequently an end to world starvation. Try digging that bone up in 10 million years - obviously the dinosaurs evolved into something rather tasty).

  21. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Go

    10 years to get to Pluto? Seems much faster than the Voyagers

    Which may just be the fact you can pack a lot more science in a lot smaller weight.

    I note also the shift in technology. From 4bit parallel/18 bit serial processors with custom instruction sets to rad hard but OTS processors.

    Let us hope it keeps going for a long while yet.

    1. John Sager

      Re: 10 years to get to Pluto? Seems much faster than the Voyagers

      They gave it a hell of a push off the planet & then picked up lots more momentum from Jupiter. Less constraints on the trajectory plan than for the Grand Tour (and a bigger booster).

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        "(and a bigger booster)."

        I'm pretty sure it wasn't

        The launch film shows an Atlas V with a bunch of smallish SRB's on the base but the Voyagers were sent on 2 Titan's with monster SRB's

        Looking up the on orbit masses NH was about 65% of either Voyager (I'd guessed it was smaller)

        So it looks like the big thing was the trajectory plan (especially Jupiter)

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Updated Look

    New photos now show the chicken drumstick to look more like a Snowman.

    I'd use the more PC term "Snowperson", but with two adjacent balls held together..

    For sure that's gotta be a deep space "guy" object.

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Updated Look

      Nono! It's the rubber duck's daddy.

      Boy are we in deep shit now, having stabbed its kid :o

  23. swm Bronze badge

    Ultima Thule

    Nicknamed "Ultima Thule" (meaning "beyond the known world")

    One of my Latin dictionaries defines "thule" as "island in the extreme North (perhaps Shetland". Another Latin dictionary says, "island located in the extreme North, perhaps Iceland or part of Scandinavia". Seems appropriate.

    1. Spherical Cow Bronze badge

      Re: Ultima Thule

      Thule is also an American air base in Greenland.

  24. Gene Cash Silver badge
    Coat

    "some four billion miles from the Sun"

    So almost as far from the FTTP cabinet as I am...

    1. Cynical Pie

      Re: "some four billion miles from the Sun"

      (Insert ISP Name of choice) will still claim you can get superfast broadband*

      *Except when there is a Y in the day and a vowel in the month and certainly not during the hours of 00:01 to 23:59

      Other T&Cs apply, please see our website for our full gamut of weasel words to avoid providing you with what you thought that you were buying...

  25. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Pay attention in Maths and Physics class kids

    You never know what you might get involved in...

  26. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Headmaster

    If the name means "Furthest object"

    Will it have to be renamed when NH has an encounter with something further away, because it no longer will be.

    I'm thinking of the two competitive laboratories where one gave a lecture on "High Vacuum" and the Director of the other asked "Can be give a lecture on 'Higher Vacuums'? "

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Welcome back!

    Checked in a few days back expecting to catch some New Horizons articles following the close up with Ultima Thule, but the Science section was bare.

    Looks like the El Reg Science team took a 9 day hiatus; clearly they were off the planet over Xmas...

  28. HelpfulJohn

    "REX, the Radio Science Experiment"

    "REX, the Radio Science Experiment"

    Hmmmmm...... should that not be acronymed to "RSEX", pronounced as "arrrsex"?

    Or even just as "RSE", roughly pronounced "arrrs"?

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