Ultima Thule doesn't actually look like a space snowman after all, new NASA photos show

Ashley May

After viewing new photos of Ultima Thule, scientists now say the distant space rock doesn't exactly look like a snowman as previously thought. 

Final photos from NASA's unmanned New Horizons spacecraft show the object that's about 4 billion miles away from the Earth is actually flat.

"We had an impression of Ultima Thule based on the limited number of images returned in the days around the flyby, but seeing more data has significantly changed our view," mission principal investigator Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute said in a statement. "It would be closer to reality to say Ultima Thule's shape is flatter, like a pancake."

The first close-up photos of Ultima Thule released by NASA in January showed two distinct seemingly round segments, making the object appear like a "space snowman." 

Additional photos, also captured Jan. 1, cause scientists to believe that its shape is more like a large pancake and a "dented walnut," scientists said Friday.

At about 20 miles in diameter, the object is a bit larger than Manhattan. It is the most distant object ever visited by a spacecraft. 

With the official name of "2014 MU69," Ultima Thule was first discovered in 2014 by astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA said the nickname Ultima Thule means "beyond the borders of the known world." 

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Contributing: Doyle Rice. Follow Ashley May on Twitter: @AshleyMayTweets

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ultima Thule doesn't actually look like a space snowman after all, new NASA photos show