The NASA New Horizons mission is currently out in the Kuiper Belt having a little look around. The spacecraft flew by an object called Ultima Thule, known formally as Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69. The flyby of the object was on January 1.
The image seen here is the clearest shot of Ultima Thule yet and was taken using the wide-angle Multicolor Visible Imaging Camera or MVIC component of the Ralph Instrument on the spacecraft. At the time the image was taken, New Horizons was 4,200 miles away.
The official time stamp shows the image was taken at 12:26 a.m. EST on January 1, only seven minutes before the closest approach to the object. The original image had a resolution of 440-feet per pixel. The team used a process called deconvolution to sharpen the image and enhance fine details.
The catch is that the process increases the graininess of images taken at high contrast levels. Near the top of the picture, you can see the terminator, not a cyborg, but the line where the day/night border exists. We can also see small pits in the surface of the object that are around 0.4-miles in diameter.
The large circular feature on the smaller part of the object is about 4-miles across. Those features give a good idea of the size of Ultima Thule. NASA says that the series of light and dark patterns on the object are of unknown origin. Scientists aren’t sure if the pits on the surface are from impacts or from venting of volatile materials earlier in the object’s life.