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NASA releases sharpest-ever images of distant Kuiper Belt object

They could shed light on activity beyond the Solar System's planets.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
February 23, 2019
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NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute, National Optical Astronomy Observatory

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The mysterious Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 now exists as more than a generic-looking blob. NASA has posted its sharpest-ever images of the object, captured a relatively close 4,109 miles away at 12:33AM on January 1st. While scientists already knew some details about MU69 before now, such as its unusual two-part 'pancake' shape, these higher-quality images show details that just weren't visible before. You'll find circular pieces of terrain, deep pits (visible toward the top) and other details that were previously elusive.

The space agency is keen to brag about the feat. New Horizons got closer to MU69 than it did its main target, Pluto, thanks to "unprecedented precision" in calculations across multiple countries. There was a real chance the camera would miss the object entirely, according to mission team Principal Investigator Alan Stern.

You're not going to get better pictures than this, unfortunately. However, they're good enough that they could provide further insights around the object's formation and the kind of interactions it has roughly 4.1 billion miles from Earth. They're brief snapshots, but they could provide years of insights.

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