Jan 2, 2019

The most distant space object ever visited looks like a red "snowman"

The first color image of Ultima Thule, taken at a distance of 85,000 miles on Jan. 1, 2019. Left and right-most images use near infrared, red and blue channels. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

The early data from the historic New Year's flyby of a space object nicknamed "Ultima Thule," located about 4 billion miles from Earth, reveals that it's comprised of two joined spheres that are reddish in color.

Why it matters: This is the first so-called "contact binary" ever studied closely by a spacecraft, according to Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission. Ultima Thule used to be two separate, icy objects that are now fused together, according to NASA. It is located in a region of our solar system known as the Kuiper Belt and thought to be a time capsule dating back to the formation of the solar system itself about 4.6 billion years ago.

The big picture: Ultima Thule, formally known as 2014 MU69, is the most primitive object ever studied closely by a spacecraft, mission scientists said. It's thought to be comprised of the building blocks of early planets, measuring about 19 miles from end-to-end. Researchers hope Ultima Thule will provide new data about how planets — perhaps including Earth — might form.

  • The flyby, which occurred at 12:33 a.m. ET on Tuesday, required scientists to stretch the capabilities of the New Horizons spacecraft to their limit.
  • As New Horizons, which also visited Pluto in 2015, sped past Ultima Thule, the spacecraft traveled at about 32,000 mph, gathering data from the seven instruments on board.

What's next: Researchers say they still only know a limited amount about Ultima Thule, whose nickname means "beyond the known world."

  • Less than 1% of the data gathered during the flyby has been received and processed back on Earth, largely due to the lag time involved with broadcasting signals across such a long distance. Researchers will continue to release new imagery and data over the coming months.

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DOJ watchdog finds flaws in FBI surveillance process beyond Page application

Carter Page. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Justice Department inspector general found errors in 29 out of 29 randomized FBI applications for acquiring wiretap warrants through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, according to a report released Tuesday.

Why it matters: The broad DOJ audit of the FISA program stems from a damning investigation into the FBI's surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, which uncovered "serious performance failures" by some FBI officials during the Russia probe. The IG's final findings come as Congress debates whether to renew the authority it grants to the FISA courts.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 p.m. ET: 838,061 — Total deaths: 41,261 — Total recoveries: 174,115.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in confirmed cases. Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 p.m. ET: 177,452 — Total deaths: 3,440 — Total recoveries: 6,038.
  3. Public health updates: More than 400 long-term care facilities across the U.S. report patients with coronavirus — Older adults and people with other health conditions are more at risk, new data shows.
  4. Federal government latest: The White House and other institutions are observing several models to better understand and prepare cities for when the coronavirus is expected to peak in the U.S.
  5. In Congress: New York Rep. Max Rose deploys to National Guard to help coronavirus response.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Misinformation in the coronavirus age.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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U.S. coronavirus updates: White House studies models projecting virus peak

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The White House and other institutions are observing several models to better understand and prepare cities for when the coronavirus is expected to peak in the U.S.

The state of play: The coronavirus is expected to peak in the U.S. in two weeks, but many states like Virginia and Maryland will see their individual peaks well after that, according to a model by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Health