The New Horizons probe has just sent back its first real shots of Ultima Thule, a 21-mile-long rock or planetesimal deep in the reaches of the solar system — and now the most distant object ever visited up close by mankind. The principal investigator of the mission, Alan Stern, called the accomplishment “a technical success beyond anything ever attempted before in spaceflight.”

Ultima Thule is, as early occultation studies suggested with remarkable success, what’s called

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