First high-resolution images of snowman-shaped Ultima Thule released by Nasa

The first high-resolution images of a 21-mile tall snowman-shaped object that lies one billion miles beyond Pluto have been released by Nasa.

The photographs of Ultima Thule, captured by the New Horizon spacecraft, were revealed at a press conference on Wednesday.

The dark object is formed of two spheres which have combined to form one celestial object.

Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons, said: “It is only really the size of something like Washington DC and it is about as reflective as garden variety dirt.

“It’s a snowman if it’s anything at all.

“I don’t think we have stressed enough, so I really want to say, what this spacecraft and this team accomplished is unprecedented.

“We were basically chasing it down in the dark at 32,000 mph.”

The images released so far are “just the tip of the iceberg”, he said, adding only 1% of data stored on the spacecraft has currently been received by scientists.

It will take nearly two years for New Horizons to beam back all of its observations of Ultima Thule.

Among the images the scientists are hoping to receive are “higher resolution views” and pictures taken when the sun is at a better angle for viewing Ultima Thule.

However the photos that have already been sent back have revealed some of its properties.

Carly Howett, New Horizons co-investigator, said: “We can definitively say that Ultima Thule is red.”

Ultima Thule is the first destination to be reached that was not even known until after the spacecraft’s launch.

New Horizons rocketed from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2006.