Tech UPTechnologyNew Horizons reveals surprising data about Arrokoth (formerly Ultima...

New Horizons reveals surprising data about Arrokoth (formerly Ultima Thule)

After flying over Pluto, the New Horizons probe last year visited one of the most striking objects in the Kuiper belt: Arrokoth, formerly known as Ultima Thule. According to the observations of the probe, Arrokoth formed in a non-violent way.

The farthest celestial object that a spaceship has ever visited

Located in the confines of the solar system, 6.6 billion kilometers away from Earth, it is the first description of a star located in the distant Kuiper belt, an area of the solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune.

New Horizons surveyed it in detail at just 3,500 kilometers away, flying over it at a speed of 50,000 kilometers per hour, collecting detailed images and data on its composition. Their findings are collected in three new investigations: it is a smooth and flat world consisting of two connected lobes that appear to be in perfect condition and a slightly cratered surface, different from that of previously visited solar system bodies, whose training process seems to be much smoother and more delicate than we imagined.

Soft fusion theory

The team believes that its two lobes were separate bodies that, a long time ago, began to orbit very slowly – then gently merged over a long period of time.

“Arrokoth is the most distant, most primitive, and most pristine object ever explored by a spacecraft, so we knew it would have a unique story to tell,” said Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado and leader of the study. “It is teaching us how planetesimals formed, and we believe the result marks a significant advance in understanding planetary formation in general.”

The theory of soft fusion was developed 15 years ago and pulverizes the main thesis on how planets formed. Not a dramatic or catastrophic event, but a gradual and delicate encounter.

More data from Arrokoth

Arrokoth is about 36 km long and 10 km wide. From the density of the crater, scientists infer an age of about 4 billion years, supporting the discovery that this distant world formed in a local solar nebula collapse cloud at the dawn of the solar system. Regarding the composition, color and surface temperature of Arrokoth, it is uniformly red, cold (with an average surface temperature of -233 ° C) , and covered with ice of methanol and unidentified complex organic molecules. The red color is likely due to the presence of organic molecules, the researchers say.


Although the scientists did not detect water in Arrokoth, they say that it could be present in a masked form or hidden from view.

Why is it interesting to investigate the objects of the Kuiper belt?

Basically because these objects have remained practically the same since the formation of the solar system. These are perfectly preserved fossils from the distant past. Fortunately, the New Horizons probe continues its journey through the confines of the solar system 7.1 billion kilometers from Earth , so we will continue to receive new surprises from this cold area full of icy worlds.

Referencia: “The solar nebula origin of (486958) Arrokoth, a primordial contact binary in the Kuiper belt” by W.B. McKinnon et al; “The geology and geophysics of Kuiper Belt object (486958) Arrokoth” by J.R. Spencer et al; “Color, composition, and thermal environment of Kuiper Belt object (486958) Arrokoth” by W.M. Grundy et al. Science, febrero de 2020.

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