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Ultima Thule viewed on Jan. 1, 2019. Image: NASA/JHU-APL/SwRI/NOAO

Newly analyzed results from NASA’s New Horizons flyby of Ultima Thule reveal clues about the evolution of our solar system, according to a new study published in the journal Science.

Why it matters: New Horizons found that Ultima Thule appears to be leftover debris from the early days of the solar system and has remained largely untouched by the heat of the sun since it formed 4.5 billion years ago. This means that any data gathered could help researchers piece together the ancient history of our solar system.

What they found: Ultima Thule — which is located 1 billion miles from Pluto in a part of space called the Kuiper Belt — likely formed when two objects gently smushed together during the early days of the solar system.

  • This type of formation runs counter to one of the leading theories that these deep space objects formed in chaos, violently crashing into one another at the speed of a bullet.
  • But if the two lobes of 2014 MU96 — unofficially called Ultima and Thule — smacked into each other at those speeds, “they would blow each other to smithereens,” study co-author Alan Stern told Axios.
  • Instead, New Horizons found the two lobes touching one another, forming what’s known as a “contact binary.”

The backdrop: New Horizons made its flyby of Ultima Thule on Jan. 1. The spacecraft launched from Earth in 2006 on a mission to Pluto. New Horizons made its planned encounter with Pluto in 2015.

What’s next: The new study was reportedly written with only about 10% of data collected during the flyby, so future studies should reveal even more about the nature of MU69 and other objects.

  • New Horizons is still in good health. Scientists working on the mission are now looking to the future, thinking about another possible extended mission.

Go deeper

Former Defense Secretary Esper sues Pentagon over book

Former President Trump and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper at the White House in 2020. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper filed a lawsuit Sunday against the Defense Department, accusing the Pentagon of "censoring" his First Amendment rights by redacting parts of his upcoming book on the Trump administration.

The big picture: Esper, who served as defense secretary from July 2019 until he was fired by then-President Trump in November last year, alleges in the suit that "significant text" is "being improperly withheld from publication" of the manuscript "under the guise of classification."

WHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries

Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization regional director for Africa. Photo: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The World Health Organization called on countries Sunday to not impose travel bans on southern African nations amid concerns over the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The U.S. and countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific announced travel restrictions in response to Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa. It's since spread to several European countries, Canada, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. The WHO noted in a statement that only two southern African nations have detected the new variant.

Updated 6 hours ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.