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  • richardmitnick 10:52 am on August 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 2014 MU69, , , , ,   

    From Astronomy: “New Horizons’ next target: spotted” 

    Astronomy magazine

    Astronomy Magazine

    July 25, 2017
    Alison Klesman

    What will New Horizons see when it reaches the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69? This artist’s concept imagines one possible scenario.Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI).

    NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft changed our view of the outer solar system forever when it flew by Pluto in 2015. Now, it’s on its way to the next destination: a Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known only as 2014 MU69.

    Kuiper Belt. Minor Planet Center

    Although the spacecraft won’t reach its target until New Year’s Day in 2019, NASA is already looking ahead to learn as much about 2014 MU69 as possible, thanks to a convenient temporary alignment that recently allowed the object to pass in front of a background star.

    The passage, called an occultation, occurs when objects “line up” in the sky as viewed from Earth. When an object, such as an asteroid, planet, dwarf planet, or KBO, passes in front of a distant star, astronomers can watch the way the starlight dims and returns to gain information about the object passing in front of it.

    Transit, NASA/Ames

    This information can include size, shape, and even whether the object possesses rings, moons, or an atmosphere.

    The recent occultation was visible from the Southern Hemisphere; the New Horizons team used 24 mobile telescopes in Argentina to view the event, which lasted only about two seconds. This effort, which thus far has yielded five successful occultation detections, is vital to the characterization of 2014 MU69 before New Horizons arrives. That’s because this tiny, distant object is poorly understood; currently, it’s believed to span about 14-25 miles in diameter (22-40 kilometers), but little else is known about its shape and composition — thus far.

    As 2014 MU69 passed in front of a distant star as seen from Earth, the star’s light winked out. The time difference between each frame in this image is 0.2 seconds.

    Now, armed with the data from this occultation and two additional recent occultations (June 3 and July 10), the New Horizons team will get to work to better understand the spacecraft’s next stop.

    “This effort, spanning six months, three spacecraft, 24 portable ground-based telescopes, and NASA’s SOFIA airborne observatory was the most challenging stellar occultation in the history of astronomy, but we did it!” said Alan Stern, the New Horizons mission principal investigator, in a press release [see https://sciencesprings.wordpress.com/2017/07/20/from-new-horizons-nasas-new-horizons-team-strikes-gold-in-argentina/. “We spied the shape and size of 2014 MU69 for the first time, a Kuiper Belt scientific treasure we will explore just over 17 months from now. Thanks to this success we can now plan the upcoming flyby with much more confidence.”

    Currently, New Horizons is 38 astronomical units (AU; 3.5 billion miles [6 billion km]) from Earth and just over 4 AU (400 million miles [600 million km]) from 2014 MU69 (which sits more than 4 billion miles (6.5 billion km) from our planet. It’s zipping along at nearly 9 miles per second (14 km/s). At its current location, it takes light — and radio signals — a little over 5 hours and 15 minutes to travel one way between Earth from the spacecraft, and vice versa. However, the spacecraft is currently in the midst of a 157-day “hibernation,” which began in April.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:32 am on July 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 2014 MU69, , , , , ,   

    From New Horizons: “NASA’s New Horizons Team Strikes Gold in Argentina” 

    NASA image


    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    New Horizons

    July 19, 2017
    Editor: Tricia Talbert

    No image caption or credit.


    An artist’s rendition of Kuiper Belt Object MU69, which New Horizons will visit in January 2019.

    A primitive solar system object that’s more than four billion miles (6.5 billion kilometers) away passed in front of a distant star as seen from Earth. Just before midnight Eastern Time Sunday (12:50 a.m. local time July 17), several telescopes deployed by the New Horizons team in a remote part of Argentina were in precisely the right place at the right time to catch its fleeting shadow — an event that’s known as an occultation.

    In a matter of seconds, NASA’s New Horizons team captured new data on its elusive target, an ancient Kuiper Belt object known as 2014 MU69.

    Kuiper Belt. Minor Planet Center

    Weary but excited team members succeeded in detecting the spacecraft’s next destination, in what’s being called the most ambitious and challenging ground occultation observation campaign in history.

    “So far we have five confirmed occultations,” said Marc Buie of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, holding up five fingers as New Horizons scientists pored over the exhilarating initial data. Buie led a team of more than 60 observers who battled high winds and cold to set up a “picket fence” of 24 mobile telescopes in a remote region of Chubut and Santa Cruz, Argentina. Their goal: to spot the shadow of the mysterious Kuiper Belt object (KBO) where New Horizons will fly by on New Year’s Day 2019 – to better understand its size, shape, orbit and the environment around it. Before these observations, only the Hubble Space Telescope successfully detected MU69, and even it had not been able to determine MU69’s size or shape.

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    “It was the most historic occultation on the face of the Earth,” said Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary science in a congratulatory call to the team. “You pulled it off and you made it happen.”

    The first MU69 occultation campaign scientist to see the telltale signature of MU69 was Amanda Zangari, a New Horizons co-investigator from SwRI, who said, “We nailed it spectacularly.”

    The New Horizons team enjoyed strong support from Argentinian scientists, government officials, and locals, who went above and beyond to ensure mission success. “I’ve been calling the people who helped us, our ‘twelfth player,’” Buie said. “The Comodoro Rivadavia community came together and did some amazing things for us.” A major national highway was closed for two hours to keep car headlights away. Street lights were turned off to ensure absolute darkness. People like the Intendente or Mayor of the Comodoro parked trucks as wind breaks. Said Buie, “The local people were a major team player.”

    “Planning for this complex astronomical deployment started just a few months ago and although the odds seem daunting — like finding a needle in a haystack — the team succeeded, thanks to the help of institutions like CONAE (Argentina’s National Commission on Space Activities), and all the goodwill of the Argentinian people. This is another example of how space exploration brings out the best in us,” said New Horizons Program Executive Adriana Ocampo.

    This was the third of three ambitious occultation observations for New Horizons, and all contributed to the success of the campaign. On June 3, teams in both Argentina and South Africa attempted to observe MU69. On July 10, researchers using NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, studied the environment around MU69 while flying over the Pacific Ocean from Christchurch, New Zealand.


    When New Horizons flies by it, MU69 will be the most distant object ever explored by a spacecraft, over a billion miles farther from our sun than Pluto. This ancient Kuiper Belt object is not well understood, because it is faint (likely 14-25 miles or 22-40 kilometers across) and so far away. To study this distant object from Earth, the New Horizons team used Hubble Space Telescope and Gaia satellite data to calculate where MU69 would cast a shadow on Earth’s surface. Both satellites were crucial to the occultation campaign.

    ESA/GAIA satellite

    It will take weeks for scientists to analyze the many datasets from the multi-faceted campaign. This advance observation is a critical step in flyby planning before the New Horizons spacecraft arrives at MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019.

    “This effort, spanning six months, three spacecraft, 24 portable ground-based telescopes, and NASA’s SOFIA airborne observatory was the most challenging stellar occultation in the history of astronomy, but we did it!” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from SwRI. “We spied the shape and size of 2014 MU69 for the first time, a Kuiper Belt scientific treasure we will explore just over 17 months from now. Thanks to this success we can now plan the upcoming flyby with much more confidence.”

    To see a video of preparations for the July 17 observations in Argentina: tinyurl.com/KBprep

    Follow the mission at the NASA New Horizons website, the mission’s KBO Chasers page, and #mu69occ.

    Marc Buie, New Horizons occultation campaign lead, holds up five fingers to represent the number of mobile telescopes in Argentina initially thought to have detected the fleeting shadow of 2014 MU69. The New Horizons spacecraft will fly by the ancient Kuiper Belt object on Jan. 1, 2019. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Adriana Ocampo.

    New Horizons Co-Investigator Amanda Zangari was the first occultation campaign scientist to see the telltale signature of MU69 while analyzing data from July 17, saying, “We nailed it spectacularly.” Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Adriana Ocampo.

    See the full article here .

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    The New Horizons mission is helping us understand worlds at the edge of our solar system by making the first reconnaissance of the dwarf planet Pluto and by venturing deeper into the distant, mysterious Kuiper Belt – a relic of solar system formation.

    The Journey

    New Horizons launched on Jan. 19, 2006; it swung past Jupiter for a gravity boost and scientific studies in February 2007, and conducted a six-month-long reconnaissance flyby study of Pluto and its moons in summer 2015, culminating with Pluto closest approach on July 14, 2015. As part of an extended mission, pending NASA approval, the spacecraft is expected to head farther into the Kuiper Belt to examine another of the ancient, icy mini-worlds in that vast region, at least a billion miles beyond Neptune’s orbit.

    Sending a spacecraft on this long journey is helping us to answer basic questions about the surface properties, geology, interior makeup and atmospheres on these bodies.

    New Science

    The National Academy of Sciences has ranked the exploration of the Kuiper Belt – including Pluto – of the highest priority for solar system exploration. Generally, New Horizons seeks to understand where Pluto and its moons “fit in” with the other objects in the solar system, such as the inner rocky planets (Earth, Mars, Venus and Mercury) and the outer gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune).

    Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, belong to a third category known as “ice dwarfs.” They have solid surfaces but, unlike the terrestrial planets, a significant portion of their mass is icy material.

    Using Hubble Space Telescope images, New Horizons team members have discovered four previously unknown moons of Pluto: Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos.

    A close-up look at these worlds from a spacecraft promises to tell an incredible story about the origins and outskirts of our solar system. New Horizons is exploring – for the first time – how ice dwarf planets like Pluto and Kuiper Belt bodies have evolved over time.

    The Need to Explore

    The United States has been the first nation to reach every planet from Mercury to Neptune with a space probe. New Horizons is allowing the U.S. to complete the initial reconnaissance of the solar system.

    A Team Approach

    The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

  • richardmitnick 8:03 am on October 19, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 2014 MU69, After Pluto: New Horizons’ Next Target is a Relict of Creation, , , ,   

    From DISCOVER: “After Pluto: New Horizons’ Next Target is a Relict of Creation” 


    Discover Magazine

    October 18, 2016
    Eric Betz

    An artist’s impression of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flying past its next target. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Steve Gribben)

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft
    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    Far, far past Pluto, the most distant object humanity has ever visited, there’s a tiny world fainter than any seen in that part of our solar system. Its dark orbit reaches a billion miles beyond the former ninth planet. But 2014 MU69, as it’s labeled by astronomers, is just a few dozen miles across — too scant to be spherical.

    There’s nothing particularly special about it. Thousands of similarly mysterious and icy worlds lurk in these celestial suburbs. Yet it’s precisely its banality that makes this little prince of a planet so special — 2014 MU69 is made of the very stuff of creation.

    And on Jan. 1, 2019, an army of astronomers will turn their gaze to this world for a few hours, as NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft blazes by at some 8 miles per second.

    At the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Pasadena, California, this week, astronomers discussed how the spacecraft’s next target is coming into focus. A team has been using the Hubble Space Telescope, which also first detected 2014 MU69 during a hunt for additional New Horizons targets, to learn more about the distant world.

    “We’re going to fly past something in the solar system that is about as old as we possibly can,” says Planetary Science Institute astronomer Susan Benecchi. “And that’s exciting because it’s information we couldn’t glean otherwise.”

    A Primordial World

    The scientists believe 2014 MU69 is what’s called a cold, classical Kuiper Belt Object. The Kuiper Belt is a disk-shaped region of icy objects past Neptune.

    Kuiper Belt. Minor Planet Center
    Kuiper Belt. Minor Planet Center

    But Pluto isn’t part of that classical population. The distant dwarf planet crosses Neptune’s orbit, and that proximity lead it to collide with other objects — large and small — over the eons as giant gaseous worlds shuffled about our outer solar system, flinging off space rocks. So, much of Pluto’s ancient history was erased in encounters with other worlds.

    And similarly, comets and asteroids, which are also excellent time capsules, have interacted with other objects and been bombarded by solar radiation.

    Path of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft toward its next potential target. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Alex Parker)

    But cold, classical objects like 2014 MU69 orbit further out. They are pristine, primordial remnants from the days our system began to coalesce out of the solar nebula. Primordial means that 2014 MU69 could have existed before there were dinosaurs, or trees, or eyes to see them, and before there was even a fully formed Earth or a sun to cast a dim light on its distant surface.

    “This population of objects has not been perturbed for a long time,” says Benecchi. “We’re looking at a really old part of the solar system, and we’re learning something about what happened a long time ago.”

    Hubble observations have helped them gain confidence that 2014 MU69 is part of that cold classical population because its surface is red. And Hubble’s catalog of thousands of other known such objects shows that the tiny object’s reddish hue is an excellent match. Its surface is redder than Pluto, but not quite so red as Mars.

    “The data confirms that on New Year’s Day 2019, New Horizons will be looking at one of the ancient building blocks of the planets,” says Amanda Zangari, a researcher on the New Horizons team.

    Thousands of Tiny Red Planets

    That red surface color on Pluto and other redder, more primordial objects, comes from complex organic molecules that Carl Sagan called tholins.

    “When you see something red in the outer solar system, generally that’s an indication the object is covered in complex organic molecules,” Northern Arizona University astronomer Stephen Tegler told me when I toured the Astrophysical Ice Laboratory before the New Horizons flyby. The lab simulated Pluto’s ice on thin films so that astronomers would better understand what they were looking at.

    When sunlight reaches Pluto’s surface, blue light is absorbed, showing our eyes red.

    “One of the things that can absorb really efficiently in blue are complex organic molecules,” Tegler says. “An easy way to generate them would be to take something like methane and hit it with particles or UV light; you can break it up and form more complex molecules.”

    And while Pluto was known to have a red tint before New Horizons flew by, it wasn’t really considered red like many of its neighbors. So, 2014 MU69 might have a truly surprising appearance once we finally see it.

    “This primordial population that is going to give us the largest lever arm for understanding the physical properties of the early solar nebula,” Benecchi says.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

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