Ultima Thule, an ancient mythological placename used in mapmaking and literature to denote a previously uncharted area far beyond the known boundaries of the world, some impossibly distant and usually frozen land, hazed with mystery and intrigue, has finally been found. And photographed. Well, sort of.
Ultima Thule is the name NASA scientists have given to a far away comet, the most distant object human beings have ever explored with something built from our own hands. The New Horizons probe shot past Ultima Thule, officially 2014 MU69, on New Year’s Day and sent back its first photos on Wednesday. It’s a comet composed of two lobes smushed together, called a “contact binary” by astronomers. Ultima Thule is about 21 miles long and 10 miles wide, located an astonishing 4 billion miles from the sun, in the distant Kuiper Belt of comets and space rocks.
Though a comet isn’t exactly what the ancient Greeks were referring to when they began using the term “Ultima Thule” thousands of years ago, really, they weren’t so far off. The New York Times has a full breakdown of the comet and the photographs here.