back to article Holy planetesimal formation, Batman! Ultima Thule's no snowman – it's a friggin' pancake

NASA's New Horizons probe mission has once again given boffins something exciting to think about. New data sent back to Earth has meant they'll need to rework our understanding about the shape of 2014 MU69 (aka Ultima Thule). Previously, the thing might as well have been dubbed Frosty the Snowman as boffins speculated that the …

  1. defiler Silver badge

    Don't you see??@!

    I'ts PROOF of a Flat Earth.


    1. Esme

      Re: Don't you see??@!

      @defiler - yeah? which side are you on, then, Topside or Underside?

      1. Korev Silver badge

        Re: Don't you see??@!

        Is this a suitable topic for a "Family" message board?

        1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

          It's fine

          He didn't say 'bottom'. That would be naughty.

      2. Scroticus Canis

        Re: Topside or Underside?

        Well Topside obviously. You would drop off if you were on the underside.

      3. zuckzuckgo Bronze badge

        Re: Don't you see??@!

        He's clearly from the upside down.

        1. Esme

          Re: Don't you see??@!

          This is completely off-topic, but I was relating to one of my fellow students the other day about an interaction I had in EVE Online during the year and a half I played that game. There I was, happily mining away when some berk warped in-system and immediately greeted me with something like

          'Esme? What kind of a name is that? "Esme = it's me" is really lame!"

          "You really need to stop playing computer games and get out and meet more girls if you have never met one called Esmerelda before" I replied.

          Exit interloper stage left in silence.

  2. Korev Silver badge

    Ultima Thule? Didn't they do a Peel Session in 1983?

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      No. That was the name of their second album. The band was called Dented Walnut.

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. MiguelC Silver badge

      Maybe Freud could explain

      the fixation you seem to have with Uranus...

      1. Scroticus Canis

        Re: Maybe Freud could explain

        Needs to be a bit more retentive.

      2. The Nazz Silver badge

        Re: Maybe Freud could explain

        At least it's his Uranus.

        1. Spherical Cow Bronze badge

          Re: Maybe Freud could explain

          @ The Nazz actually he really likes Uranus.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. Cuddles Silver badge


    "2014 MU69 is a relic from the formation of the solar system."

    I really wish people would stop saying things like this every time there's a report on asteroids or whatever. Everything in the solar system is a relic from the formation of the solar system. Stuff like this is interesting enough without having to devolve into meaningless nonsense in efforts to big it up.

    1. STOP_FORTH Silver badge

      Re: Relic?

      I think the point is that these things have not changed that much in the last four and a half billion years. Ignoring volatile stuff that has been driven off what you are left with is "primordial stuff". Even bodies like Ceres and Vesta have radically changed since their formation.

      So, if you had enough stuff like this you could build a solar system. Or, at least, work out how it had evolved.

      I am a body in the solar system, but you'd have a pretty hard job trying to work out how Jupiter formed by looking at my chemical constituents.

    2. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Re: Relic?

      Well, I'm in the solar system and while I maybe a relic, I'm not that old.

      1. STOP_FORTH Silver badge

        Re: Relic?

        I am also a relic and parts of me may be four and a half billion years old. (I believe most of my hydrogen is thirteen and a half billion, give or take.)

        Whilst not in any way spherical, as I am less than 400km across, my GP thinks I am more spherical than I should be. I guess he must have changed degree from astrophysics to medicine?

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Relic?

        And I'm Tia Carrere or I was until I put my hip out!

    3. mikeymac

      Re: Relic?

      Or, Ultima Thule could be one million or ten thousand years old. Do any of us have confidence that they really know?

      1. STOP_FORTH Silver badge

        Re: Relic?

        Well spotted mikeymac. It was actually created in 1945 by the Germans on the far side of the Moon. That explains why it's called Ultima Thule. Lizards were probably involved as well.

      2. M.V. Lipvig

        Re: Relic?

        I am fully, 100 percent confident that they have no idea. But then, how could they? What they are trying to do is figure out how spaghetti was made by looking through a telescope from 5 miles away at a bowl made last month, without knowing what spaghetti is supposed to be. This was the equivalent of sending a drone over to look, where they discover that it looks different from up close than it does from a long ways off. While this is a start, nobody's really going to know until we can stand on it with a full set of a analysis tools on hand.

  5. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Potato Rule doesn't apply

    It's just a pile of rubble, things need to be a lot larger before gravity rounds it all up - it would have been really strange if it had been round.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: Potato Rule doesn't apply

      well, yes and no. it all depends on the size distribution of the material being accreted, and whether it happens symmetrically. For instance, if all the material accreting onto a body was the size of dust grains, and was uniformly distributed, you might expect the result to be a spherical body even if it was well under the mass for gravity to do the job, for example if you had a body moving through a large, dense dust cloud (such as in a planetary ring system). On the other hand, if you have a relatively sparsely populated field of material, where the size varied from microscopic upwards, in a Poisson distribution, you might expect accretion to happen as a serious of collisions between bodies of varying sizes, resulting in a much more random shape. The observations suggest that in the outer solar system at least, the mode of formation is much more the latter.

      1. STOP_FORTH Silver badge

        Re: Potato Rule doesn't apply

        I think Version1.0's point is that when things get big enough gravity tends to make them spherical no matter what shape they were originally. There is a minimum size/mass for this to happen.

        For rocky/metallic bodies this size is somewhere between Vesta and Ceres.

        For icy bodies this happens at a smaller mass (presumably bigger than Ultima Thule.)

        For something made out of nickel and iron this size will be bigger than Ceres.

        But if they spin fast enough (like Saturn) they start to bulge out at the equator and stop being spherical.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Potato Rule doesn't apply

          Not really. See some squashed moons and asteroids in the asteroid belts. If no other forces acting on them it will be round. Else if heat/photon/outgassing is stronger/weaker than the gravitational force/size of the object.

        2. eldakka Silver badge

          Re: Potato Rule doesn't apply

          But if they spin fast enough (like Saturn) they start to bulge out at the equator and stop being spherical.

          They don't have to spin very fast, Earth technically is not a sphere either, it is an oblate spheriod [citation - wikipedia] - it bulges at the equator.

          1. Tom 7 Silver badge

            Re: Potato Rule doesn't apply

            So my waist can be explained by my pirouetting to the bar!

            1. Anonymous Coward

              Re: Potato Rule doesn't apply

              When you pirouette, they are enhanced, to say the least...

  6. Alister Silver badge

    while the smaller lobe (nicknamed "Thule") looks like a disappointingly deflated party balloon (or "dented walnut", according to scientists).

    Doesn't look like any walnut I've ever seen, "dented hazelnut" maybe...

  7. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Planetessimal Pancakes

    Sounds tasty. Feeling hungry now

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Independence day? More like Shrove Tuesday

      Both must be approaching. What NASA isn't telling us is that they've analysed it's trajectory, and decoded a message revealed in close-up images. It's heading for Canada, and the message reads 'All your maple syrup are belong to us!'

      (A smalled message reads 'and bacon')

      1. Spherical Cow Bronze badge

        Re: Independence day? More like Shrove Tuesday

        Is "smalled" the opposite of "embiggened"? If so I feel it must be a perfectly cromulent word.

        1. GreenBit

          Re: Independence day? More like Shrove Tuesday

          Thought it was 'smallened', as in, "the bigness of the universe makes us feel smallened"

  8. Alistair Silver badge

    not having yet had brekkie

    All this talk of pancakes and nuts is making me hungry.

    Since I'm north of the 52nd, I'll be making myself nice hot,gooey oatmeal.

    Pancakes are for sundays.

    I'll leave you nuts here in the forum discussing odd shaped things floating about in the outer reaches of the solar system.

    ) possibility? -> Ultima and Thule were moving in substantially different ways, possibly on drastically different paths at one time, and the intersection of their paths, the resulting impact put them roughly where they are now. This might explain the difference in planar form between the two objects and why they are so 'slim'. -- I'll note I'm still working on first coffee and first breakfast. I'll think on it more after third coffee.

  9. Blockchain commentard Silver badge

    Command and habitation module up front in the sphere, propulsion and engineering in the flat rear section. Just an alien version of the classic Enterprise. Obviously NASA will deny it, but we knew that.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Other way round.

      Physics would put a rotating saucer for simulated gravity, then a spherical engineering/engine area. Though that arrangement of saucer would be strange, changing the axis would probably be a better arrangement, as spinning the entire ship would be possible.

      Beside, we already got a picture proving it's no station... wait

      "That's no moon!"

  10. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

    New Year Diet?

    Come on - the images were taken around New Year. Binge diet time...

    Had they got there a week earlier it'd have shown the thing stuffed full, spherical and quite probably wobbling around pissed.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Starship enterprise

    Well, that's what the first computer model came up with, and then it got a bit fuzzy afterwards.

  12. John Savard Silver badge


    I don't know. This model of the shape of Ultima Thule looks to me as if the model may have been formed from an inadequate compensation for artifacts due to the way in which images were scanned interacting with the motion of the New Horizons spacecraft as it passed it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Artifact

      Yeah, I no doubt do not doubt that the thing is flattened in shape. Just having hard time accepting it's THAT flat based on such little observations. However, TBH they guessed it's shape based on background stars previous to the direct photography really really well.

      Perhaps solar wind/photon pressure is shaping it?

  13. Eddy Ito

    Well if the universe is going to start knapping out Clovis points it can't leave its hammerstone stuck on the side like that.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Looking at it logically it is quite clearly a redundant Enterprise class starship that's been circling out there long enough to accrete a layer of snow. Presumably left over from the seeding of the solar system with DNA and parked far enough out so the monkeys wouldn't get too excited until they had developed at least a modicum of technology.

  15. Chris Evans

    CSI missing a trick?

    I've often wondered why CSI (Fictionally and in real life) don't use NASAs type of image enhancement, like they are using here!

    Rather than stupidly zooming in by ridicules amounts.

  16. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Relativistic foreshoretening

    whatever out there is making sure we cant watch it for long!

  17. the Jim bloke Silver badge

    It is a table

    to rest Russell's teapot on.

    ... once the orbits intersect.

    ..... might be a while.

  18. sum_of_squares

    OK, so let's consider the following facts:

    1) NASA claims they can't even explain why such an flat-shaped object exists.

    2) The object looks like a pancake.. or a flying saucer.

    3) The object is called "Thule" - after the "Thule-Society":

    4) The Thule society was an occultist group which tried to create flying saucers.

    Go figure, sheeples.

    What exactly do they HIDE from us?!?!


    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

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