Before you start theorizing about what space creatures built this snowman-like object, allow us to explain Ultima Thule’s unusual shape. The reason the two rock-like formations appear to be stacked on top of one another is, according to science, likely because of swirling ice and dust particles.
Eventually, this motion caused to massive lumps of space rock to collide and stick together. Stern explained during the photo unveiling that the gravity of each “lobe” was enough to keep them from separating. Jeff Moore, a planetary geologist and co-investigator on New Horizons’ mission, said the lobes likely squished together at “the speed at which you might park your car.”
“If you had a collision with another car at those speeds, you might not even fill out the insurance forms,” he joked.
Early analysis of the photos shows a neck connecting the two rocks, which appears brighter than the two round parts. This, according to scientist Cathy Olkin, is probably because a bunch of loose grains of space dust have started collecting there. As for the snowman’s dark red hue, well, that’s all thanks to space radiation and exotic ices on the surface of the lobes.
Scientists are far from done studying Ultima Thule. NASA is hopeful that this lengthy mission will provide insights into the conditions in space when the solar system formed. Objects in the Kuiper Belt are believed to have been hanging around since the earliest days of space as we know it, and they may even look the same.
In the next 20 months, New Horizons hopes to send back more interesting data about what’s going on all the way out there at the edge of our solar system. In the meantime, they’re working on getting higher resolution images of their most recent discovery.