Ultima Thule’s peculiar shape is a puzzle for scientists

Ultima Thule, the farthest object ever explored, has yet more mysteries to reveal. Forget the debates about whether it is looks most like a snowman or more like Star Wars‘ BB-8 — NASA scientists have revealed that it is even more oddly shaped than previously thought.

A sequence of 14 images taken by New Horizons has been processed and strung together to show the shape and movement of this strange object. The central frame of the image was captured on January 1, 2019 during the New Year’s Day flyby:

It’s hard to see in the video, but scientists have been able to work out more about the object’s shape by looking at the way that it blocks out the stars behind it as it passes by. The researchers have found that the object does indeed have two lobes as thought, but neither lobe is spherical. The larger lobe, called Ultima, is more of a “pancake” shape, while the smaller lobe, Thule, is more like a “dented walnut.” However, there is still some degree of uncertainty over what the exact shape of the object is because parts of it were hidden from view and were not illuminated by the light from the Sun.

In the image below, you can see a comparison of the previous model of the object and the new updated model, with blue dashed lines representing areas of uncertainty where the object could be flatter than or more curved than the current image shows:

ultima thule new shape draftshapemodelgraphic 001 master 1
Scientists’ understanding of Ultima Thule has changed as they review additional data. The “old view” in this illustration is based on images taken within a day of New Horizons’ closest approach to the Kuiper Belt object on Jan. 1, 2019. The bottom view is the team’s current best shape model for Ultima Thule, but still carries some uncertainty as an entire region was essentially hidden from view, and not illuminated by the Sun, during the New Horizons flyby. NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

The new data raises new questions, however, such as how the object developed this peculiar shape. “We had an impression of Ultima Thule based on the limited number of images returned in the days around the flyby, but seeing more data has significantly changed our view,” Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of Southwest Research Institute, said in a statement. “It would be closer to reality to say Ultima Thule’s shape is flatter, like a pancake. But more importantly, the new images are creating scientific puzzles about how such an object could even be formed. We’ve never seen something like this orbiting the Sun.”

Mobile

Speed is everything: Using 5G in the U.K. on the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G

You can buy a 5G phone and connect to a 5G network in the UK right now; but what's it like when you do? Armed with a OnePlus 7 Pro 5G and a 5G SIM on the EE network, we've been walking the streets of London to find out.
Gaming

Halo Infinite and Project Scarlett dominate the Xbox E3 2019 conference

Microsoft held its annual E3 press conference on June 9. The Xbox E3 2019 press conference featured more news on Project Scarlett and Project xCloud, as well as plenty of game announcements.
Emerging Tech

In the search for extraterrestrial life, we should look to exomoons

Traditionally scientists have looked to other planets for signs of life, but a new study by an astrophysicist from the University of Lincoln, U.K., suggests we may be more successful if we started looking at moons as well.
Mobile

Escape reality with the best augmented reality apps for Android and iOS

Augmented reality apps have come a long way in the past few years, and there are more of them available to consumers than ever before. Check out our top picks for the best augmented reality apps for Android and iOS.
Emerging Tech

Uber Eats’ drone delivery service could see Big Macs hit speeds of 70 mph

Uber Eats is testing meal delivery using drones. The company wants to start a commercial delivery service using the drone this summer, but it still needs permission from regulators.
Emerging Tech

A giant new solar farm in Texas will harness the sun’s rays to … brew beer?

Brewing beer is surprisingly energy intensive. With a giant new solar farm in Texas, the world’s largest beer manufacturer promises to brew 100% of its beverages using renewable energy.
Emerging Tech

This lifesaving wearable could diagnose strokes more accurately

A new breakthrough wearable device uses two light measurement techniques to track the body's blood circulation — and accurately predict deadly strokes in the process. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Sloshed drone pilots in Japan can now be punished with jail time

If you're flying a drone in Japan, better not be sloshed when you send your bird skyward. A new law passed this week could see drunk drone pilots sent to jail for up to a year or hit with a hefty fine.
Emerging Tech

Mount Everest is now home to the world’s highest weather station

A team of scientists has created a new record with the installation of the world’s highest weather station atop Everest. Data from the expedition will help researchers better understand the effect of climate change on the region.
Emerging Tech

This drone with hands looks like a nightmare straight out of Black Mirror

This unlikely drone-with-hands creation is the work of Federico Ciccarese, the brains behind YouBionic, a bionic hand project that has evolved far beyond its original brief. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

This crazy-looking robot uses microspines on its legs to climb up walls

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon have built a bioinspired robot, which uses microspines on its feet to grip onto rough surfaces. This allows it to climb up very steep gradients. Check it out.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Florida’s autonomous vehicle law, E3 updates, and more

On this episode of DT Live, we take a look at the biggest trending stories in tech, including Florida allowing fully autonomous vehicles on the road, Atari’s new gaming system, E3 updates, high-speed rail, and more.
Emerging Tech

Got $400 million to burn? The world’s largest airplane is up for sale

Stratolaunch, the world's largest airplane, is up for sale. All it'll cost you is $400 million dollars. The brainchild of late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the plane was supposed to make space travel more accessible and affordable.
Emerging Tech

Ex astris, scientia: Star Trek logo spotted on the surface of Mars

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been boldly going to Mars and capturing images since 2005, and now it has spotted something where no man has gone before: a structure on the planet's surface which will look familiar to Trekkies.