NASA Shares New Horizons Ultima Thule Image Taken Only Minutes Before Its Closest Flyby

NASA has shared a new image from the New Horizons spacecraft that was snapped only a few minutes before its closest flyby of Ultima Thule on New Year's Day. The image, seen below, is the most detailed ever taken of the Kuiper Belt object and has a resolution of about 110-feet per pixel. NASA said that the processed complete image we see here is a composite picture made up of nine individual photos.

The images were all taken with the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager or (LORRI). Each image had exposure for about 0.025 seconds and was snapped 6.5-minutes before the closest approach to the object. New Horizons was 4,177 miles from Ultima Thule.

The image was taken at 12:26 am EST on January 1, 2019, and at the time New Horizons was 4.1 billion miles from Earth. Ultima Thue and New Horizons passed each other at over 32,000 mph reports NASA. Snapping images of Ultima Thule wasn't the intended mission of New Horizons.

New Horizons had snapped images of Pluto back in 2015 and is now a billion miles past the former planet. NASA says the new image allows scientists to see surface features not apparent from earlier pictures. NASA says whether the small, dark pits near on Ultima Thule are impact creators, collapse pits, or something else will be debated by the science team.

The New Horizons team calls images of Ultima Thule a "Stretch Goal" and notes they feared the spacecraft might be unable to get Ultima Thule in the camera's narrow field of view. The flyby of the Kuiper Belt object required the highest navigation precision ever achieved by a spacecraft.