It was the year 2014 when the Hubble Space Telescope, immersed in its exploration of the confines of our Solar system, located a peculiar object in the Kuiper belt, located beyond Neptune. At that time, the New Horizons mission was studying Pluto’s peculiarities, dear and controversial dwarf planet. But, after finishing collecting data on the dwarf planet, NASA announced that its next destination would be to inquire about the preliminary finding. The earthlings had to wait until January 1, 2019 for the probe to announce that it had managed to fly over the celestial body. A year later, the researchers responsible for processing all this spatial information announce that we finally have the most detailed approximation of the object now baptized as Arrakoth and formerly as Ultima Thule. Or 486958, for scientists. We are facing the more information obtained until the date of furthest and most primitive object Visited by a spaceship.
This new ‘high resolution photograph’ of Arrakoth, announced by hype and saucer in the journal Science and at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), represents a milestone in space exploration. The detailed image is based on 10 times more data than the previous ones. And his analysis reveals some of the mysteries that until now surrounded the trans-Neptunian object. Its peculiar shape, reminiscent of that of a giant peanut, it would be due to the union of two previously independent bodies. There is no evidence that this process involved a violent collision, so it is assumed that the coupling had to be smooth. The data, in fact, point to the speed of the impact had to be only a few meters per second.
The data also suggests the possible age of Arrokoth, which would be around 4 billion years. It is likely that his birth occurred after collapse of a nebula. Its surface, according to the new studies, is smoother than previously thought, something that indicates that the object has remained relatively well preserved since its formation. An analysis of its color and temperature also reveals that it is a red and cold object, covered with methanol and organic molecules not yet identified. The researchers do not rule out that the object contains samples of water (or ice), although for the moment they remain hidden from view.
Once this new look on this intriguing celestial object is obtained, the question is: what now? David C. Jewitt, a space science researcher at the University of California, comments that this is only the first step. “If we have succeeded once, we are sure that it is feasible and desirable continue exploring the outside of the Solar System“, says the scientist in a complementary article to the recently published studies. The challenge for the following missions, he argues, will be to flee from the gravitational forces to stay longer in the Kuiper belt. The technology is prepared. Only the institutional commitment would be lacking. to continue exploring the confines of the cosmos.