Tag Archives: Ultima Thule

More results from New Horizons

Today’s press conference did not release any significantly new images. In fact, they did not provide much new information at all. They noted that based on the data obtained so far, they have confirmed that Ultima Thule has no moons closer than 100 miles, or further than 500 miles, but they have not yet gotten the data that looks in that gap.

They created a stereoscopic image using two images produced thirty minutes apart. This helps tell us where the bumps and depressions are on the surface, something that cannot be clearly determined from the first image because the sun was shining directly on it, producing no shadows. From this it appears that the smaller lobe has a very significant bump. More data from New Horizons will have to be downloaded to confirm this.

The reddish color of Ultima Thule places it in the center of a class of Kuiper Belt objects dubbed cold classical objects. This will help them better determine its make-up as more data arrives.

Overall, this press conference was mostly hype. They don’t yet have enough data from the spacecraft, and won’t have it for weeks. I’m therefore puzzled why they bothered today, unless they did it simply to keep the hype up about the mission so as to encourage funding to look for another object to fly past.

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“We have a snow-man!”

Ultima Thule, the snowman

The quote in the headline comes from Alan Stern, the principle scientist for New Horizons, during today’s press conference revealing the first high resolution images of Ultima Thule. The press release for this conference is now online. The image on the right is a reduced cropped version of the main release image today. If you click on it you can see the full resolution version.

The images reveal that Ultima Thule actually is two objects in contact with each other. In addition, the snowman description is apt, as it has a mottled appearance as if it was shaped roughly and somewhat gently over time. Tiny pebbles and rocks softly came together to form two snowballs that then eventually came to touch and join.

They describe this as the most primitive object ever observed. It is also dark, and red in color, like dark reddish dirt.

More images and data is still coming in, to be released in another press conference tomorrow.

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Another image of Ultima Thule

Ultima Thule again

The image on the right was released during this morning’s first briefing outlining the successful confirmation of New Horizons’ fly-by of Ultima Thule (still on-going as I post this). It, along with other data, has provided an explanation for why the scientists have not detected a significant variation in brightness: Our view is looking down at the object’s poles

Images taken during the spacecraft’s approach — which brought New Horizons to within just 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) of Ultima at 12:33 a.m. EST — revealed that the Kuiper Belt object may have a shape similar to a bowling pin, spinning end over end, with dimensions of approximately 20 by 10 miles (32 by 16 kilometers). Another possibility is Ultima could be two objects orbiting each other. Flyby data have already solved one of Ultima’s mysteries, showing that the Kuiper Belt object is spinning like a propeller with the axis pointing approximately toward New Horizons. This explains why, in earlier images taken before Ultima was resolved, its brightness didn’t appear to vary as it rotated. The team has still not determined the rotation period.

They note that the highest resolution images will not arrive until February, though they do expect some good images by tomorrow.

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“We have a healthy spacecraft.”

The words above were just announced in the control room for New Horizons. They have confirmation that the spacecraft survived the fly-by of Ultima Thule, and is now ready to begin downloading the data it obtained.

It will take literally a year to get all of that data. They will be holding a first press conference within an hour to outline in greater detail the spacecraft’s status, followed by another briefing at 2 pm Eastern where they will likely release the first images.

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First faint image of Ultima Thule

Ultima Thule, first image

In anticipation of receiving data from the fly-by just past midnight last night, the New Horizons team has released the image above, taken 24 hours earlier.

Just over 24 hours before its closest approach to Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule, the New Horizons spacecraft has sent back the first images that begin to reveal Ultima’s shape. The original images have a pixel size of 6 miles (10 kilometers), not much smaller than Ultima’s estimated size of 20 miles (30 kilometers), so Ultima is only about 3 pixels across (left panel). However, image-sharpening techniques combining multiple images show that it is elongated, perhaps twice as long as it is wide (right panel). This shape roughly matches the outline of Ultima’s shadow that was seen in observations of the object passing in front of a star made from Argentina in 2017 and Senegal in 2018.

This object is definitely strangely shaped.

New Horizons is traveling fast, which is why we won’t get good images until practically the instant the fly-by happens. And the first downloads from that fly-by are due to arrive within the next two hours. Keep your fingers crossed that the spacecraft operated as programmed and captured Ultima Thule in all its weird glory.

One point about the sad state of journalism these days. Numerous media publications posted stories last night celebrating that fly-by, as if they knew it was a success. This is bunk. We won’t know what happened until this morning. To imply we do is the hallmark of fake news.

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Watching New Horizons’ flyby of Ultima Thule

NASA has announced that the partial government shutdown will no longer prevent full coverage by the agency of the New Horizons’ fly-by of Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule just past midnight on January 1, 2019.

This entire shutdown is pure theater, and a joke. If the government was truly out of money, it would be impossible for NASA to suddenly obtain funds to finance a New Horizons’ fly-by broadcast. The problem is that legally the government should be out of money, as Congress has the power of the purse and has not approved funding. Unfortunately, we no longer obey the law, and so our government can now do whatever it wants, free from all legal constraints.

Meanwhile the article at the link provides some good information on watching the fly-by:

Though people can now continue to enjoy the coverage through NASA’s New Horizons twitter account and NASA TV, APL will continue providing coverage in their own YouTube channel, as well as with Stern’s personal twitter account and New Horizon’s account.

The twitter feeds will mostly be junk. I would focus on the streaming links.

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No rotational light curve from Ultima Thule?

Data from New Horizons as it is quickly approaching Ultima Thule has found that even though the object is expected to be oblong or even two objects it has shown absolutely no variation in light as it rotates.

Even though scientists determined in 2017 that the Kuiper Belt object isn’t shaped like a sphere – that it is probably elongated or maybe even two objects – they haven’t seen the repeated pulsations in brightness that they’d expect from a rotating object of that shape. The periodic variation in brightness during every rotation produces what scientists refer to as a light curve.

“It’s really a puzzle,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute. “I call this Ultima’s first puzzle – why does it have such a tiny light curve that we can’t even detect it? I expect the detailed flyby images coming soon to give us many more mysteries, but I did not expect this, and so soon.”

They have several theories, all implausible, to explain this. It could be they are looking at the object’s pole. Or maybe a dust cloud or numerous tumbling moons surround the object and hide the light variation.

Fortunately, we shall have an answer to this mystery in less than two weeks, when New Horizons zips past.

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New Horizons sees no hazards, will do closest fly-by of Ultima Thule

After three weeks of intense observations and seeing no significant objects orbiting close to the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule, the New Horizons team has decided to go for the closest fly-by on January 1, 2019.

After almost three weeks of sensitive searches for rings, small moons and other potential hazards around the object, New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern gave the “all clear” for the spacecraft to remain on a path that takes it about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) from Ultima, instead of a hazard-avoiding detour that would have pushed it three times farther out. With New Horizons blazing though space at some 31,500 miles (50,700 kilometers) per hour, a particle as small as a grain of rice could be lethal to the piano-sized probe.

We should begin to see more detailed images soon. Because of the speed in which New Horizons is traveling, it will not get very close until it is almost on top of Ultima Thule, so the best images will all occur over a very short span of time.

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New Horizons completes another course correction before flyby

On December 2 New Horizons successfully completed another engine burn to refine its course for its January 1, 2019 flyby of the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule.

The maneuver was designed to keep New Horizons on track toward its ideal arrival time and closest distance to Ultima, just 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1. At the time of the burn New Horizons was 4.03 billon miles (6.48 billion kilometers) from Earth and just 40 million miles (64 million kilometers) from Ultima – less than half the distance between Earth and the Sun. From that far away, the radio signals carrying data from the spacecraft needed six hours, at light speed, to reach home.

The team is analyzing whether to conduct up to three other course-correction maneuvers to home in on Ultima Thule.

The distance to Ultima Thule is still too much to produce detailed images. New Horizons however is going very fast, so in the coming three weeks this will change drastically, and for the better.

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New Horizons makes final big course correction

New Horizons this week successfully made its final major course correction in preparation for its January 1st fly-by of the Kuiper Belt object the science team has dubbed Ultima Thule.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft carried out a short engine burn on Oct. 3 to home in on the location and timing of its New Year’s flyby of the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule.

Word from the spacecraft that it had successfully performed the 3½-minute maneuver reached mission operations at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, at around 10:20 p.m. EDT. The maneuver slightly tweaked the spacecraft’s trajectory and bumped its speed by 2.1 meters per second – just about 4.6 miles per hour – keeping it on track to fly past Ultima (officially named 2014 MU69) at 12:33 am EST on Jan. 1, 2019.

As the spacecraft gets closer they will do more refinements, but right now they are a very precise course. The January 1st fly-by will end a spectacular fall season of planetary mission rendezvous, landings, fly-bys and sample gatherings.

Posted from Chicago.

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New Horizons snaps first picture of Ultima

It isn’t much more than a tiny moving dot across a sea of stars, but on August 16, 2018 New Horizons was able to capture its first series of images of its January 1st fly-by target, the Kuiper belt object they have nicknamed Ultima Thule.

This first detection is important because the observations New Horizons makes of Ultima over the next four months will help the mission team refine the spacecraft’s course toward a closest approach to Ultima, at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1, 2019. That Ultima was where mission scientists expected it to be – in precisely the spot they predicted, using data gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope – indicates the team already has a good idea of Ultima’s orbit.

Ultima was 100 million miles away at the time.

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New Horizons awakened to begin preparations for January 1 2019 flyby

The New Horizons engineering team has brought the spacecraft out of hibernation to begin preparations for its January 1 2019 flyby of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, which they have dubbed Ultima Thule.

New Horizons will begin its approach phase of the MU69 flyby on August 16, 2018, when it will begin imaging MU69 and the area around it to begin acquiring data about the KBO and its surroundings. Also, New Horizons will look for potential debris that could pose a hazard to itself, such as moons or rings.

Should any potential dangers be found, New Horizons has four planned opportunities to make trajectory changes from early October to early December 2018. The backup trajectory has a distance from MU69 of 10,000 kilometers (around 6,200 miles). Using the backup trajectory would lead to less and/or lower-quality science data gathered due to the probe flying by MU69 further away than planned.

The approach phase will last from August 16 to December 24, 2018, after which the core phase will begin.

The core phase begins just one week before the flyby and continues until two days afterward. It contains the flyby and the majority of the data gathering.

Based on this schedule, we should begin to get some interesting pictures of Ultima Thule by the fall.

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New Horizons team picks Ultima Thule as nickname for 2014 MU69

In their continuing effort to give interesting names to their targets, the New Horizons team has chosen the name Ultima Thule for 2014 MU69, the Kuiper Belt object it will fly past on January 1, 2019.

With substantial public input, the team has chosen “Ultima Thule” (pronounced ultima thoo-lee”) for the Kuiper Belt object the New Horizons spacecraft will explore on Jan. 1, 2019. Officially known as 2014 MU69, the object, which orbits a billion miles beyond Pluto, will be the most primitive world ever observed by spacecraft – in the farthest planetary encounter in history.

Thule was a mythical, far-northern island in medieval literature and cartography. Ultima Thule means “beyond Thule”– beyond the borders of the known world—symbolizing the exploration of the distant Kuiper Belt and Kuiper Belt objects that New Horizons is performing, something never before done.

“MU69 is humanity’s next Ultima Thule,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “Our spacecraft is heading beyond the limits of the known worlds, to what will be this mission’s next achievement. Since this will be the farthest exploration of any object in space in history, I like to call our flyby target Ultima, for short, symbolizing this ultimate exploration by NASA and our team.”

Their spacecraft will be the first to see this object up close. It is their right to name it. And if the International Astronomical Union objects, they can go to hell. I guarantee that future generations of space-farers will know this tiny world by this name, and this name alone.

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