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  • richardmitnick 8:32 am on July 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , NASA New Horizons   

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

    NASA image

    NASA

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    New Horizons

    July 19, 2017
    Editor: Tricia Talbert

    1
    No image caption or credit.

    6

    An artist’s rendition of Kuiper Belt Object MU69, which New Horizons will visit in January 2019.
    NASA, ESA, SWRI, JHU/APL, AND THE NEW HORIZONS KBO SEARCH TEAM

    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.

    NASA/DLR SOFIA

    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.

    4
    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.

    6
    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 .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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 9:50 am on July 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Charon, , NASA New Horizons,   

    From New Horizons: “NASA Video Soars over Pluto’s Majestic Mountains and Icy Plains” 

    NASA image

    NASA

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    New Horizons

    July 14, 2017
    Editor: Bill Keeter


    Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Paul Schenk and John Blackwell, Lunar and Planetary Institute

    In July 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft sent home the first close-up pictures of Pluto and its moons – amazing imagery that inspired many to wonder what a flight over the distant worlds’ icy terrain might be like.

    Wonder no more. Using actual New Horizons data and digital elevation models of Pluto and its largest moon Charon, mission scientists have created flyover movies that offer spectacular new perspectives of the many unusual features that were discovered and which have reshaped our views of the Pluto system – from a vantage point even closer than the spacecraft itself.

    This dramatic Pluto flyover begins over the highlands to the southwest of the great expanse of nitrogen ice plain informally named Sputnik Planitia. The viewer first passes over the western margin of Sputnik, where it borders the dark, cratered terrain of Cthulhu Macula, with the blocky mountain ranges located within the plains seen on the right. The tour moves north past the rugged and fractured highlands of Voyager Terra and then turns southward over Pioneer Terra — which exhibits deep and wide pits — before concluding over the bladed terrain of Tartarus Dorsa in the far east of the encounter hemisphere.


    Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Paul Schenk and John Blackwell, Lunar and Planetary Institute

    The equally exciting flight over Charon begins high over the hemisphere New Horizons saw on its closest approach, then descends over the deep, wide canyon of Serenity Chasma. The view moves north, passing over Dorothy Gale crater and the dark polar hood of Mordor Macula. The flight then turns south, covering the northern terrain of Oz Terra before ending over the relatively flat equatorial plains of Vulcan Planum and the “moated mountains” of Clarke Montes.

    The topographic relief is exaggerated by a factor of two to three times in these movies to emphasize topography; the surface colors of Pluto and Charon also have been enhanced to bring out detail.

    Digital mapping and rendering were performed by Paul Schenk and John Blackwell of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. All feature names in the Pluto system are informal.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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 7:43 am on July 10, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA New Horizons   

    From NASA New Horizons: “New Horizons Deploys Global Team for Rare Look at Next Flyby Target” 

    NASA image

    NASA

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    New Horizons

    May 25, 2017
    Bill Keeter

    1
    First look: Projected path of the 2014 MU69 occultation shadow, across South America and the southern tip of Africa, on June 3. Credits: Lowell Observatory/Larry Wasserman

    Mission Update: KBO Chasers

    After months of preparing for the most technically sophisticated and challenging occultation campaign in history, it’s all coming down to the wild card – will there be clear skies? Go behind the scenes with New Horizons scientists “chasing” the shadow of the mission’s next flyby target across two continents, South America and Africa. Two seconds could change everything we know about a Kuiper Belt object known as 2014 MU69, a mysterious remnant of early solar system formation.

    Kuiper Belt. Minor Planet Center


    Published on Jun 23, 2014

    NASA New Horizons mission Update,
    After careful consideration and analysis, the Hubble Space Telescope Time Allocation Committee has recommended using Hubble to search for an object the Pluto-bound NASA New Horizons mission could visit after its flyby of Pluto in July 2015.
    The planned search will involve targeting a small area of sky in search of a Kuiper Belt object (KBO) for the outbound spacecraft to visit. The Kuiper Belt is a vast debris field of icy bodies left over from the solar system’s formation 4.6 billion years ago. A KBO has never been seen up close because the belt is so far from the sun, stretching out to a distance of 5 billion miles into a never-before-visited frontier of the solar system.
    “I am pleased that our science peer-review process arrived at a consensus as to how to effectively use Hubble’s unique capabilities to support the science goals of the New Horizons mission,” said Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland.
    Fully carrying out the KBO search is contingent on the results from a pilot observation using Hubble data.
    The space telescope will scan an area of sky in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius to try and identify any objects orbiting within the Kuiper Belt. To discriminate between a foreground KBO and the clutter of background stars in Sagittarius, the telescope will turn at the predicted rate that KBOs are moving against the background stars. In the resulting images, the stars will be streaked, but any KBOs should appear as pinpoint objects.
    If the test observation identifies at least two KBOs of a specified brightness it will demonstrate statistically that Hubble has a chance of finding an appropriate KBO for New Horizons to visit. At that point, an additional allotment of observing time will continue the search across a field of view roughly the angular size of the full moon.
    Astronomers around the world apply for observing time on the Hubble Space Telescope. Competition for time on the telescope is extremely intense and the requested observing time significantly exceeds the observing time available in a given year. Proposals must address significant astronomical questions that can only be addressed with Hubble’s unique capabilities, and are beyond the capabilities of ground-based telescopes. The proposals are peer reviewed annually by an expert committee, which looks for the best possible science that can be conducted by Hubble and recommends to the Space Telescope Science Institute director a balanced program of small, medium, and large investigations.
    Though Hubble is powerful enough to see galaxies near the horizon of the universe, finding a KBO is a challenging needle-in-haystack search. A typical KBO along the New Horizons trajectory may be no larger than Manhattan Island and as black as charcoal.
    Even before the launch of New Horizons in 2006, Hubble has provided consistent support for this edge-of-the-solar system mission. Hubble was used to discover four small moons orbiting Pluto and its binary companion object Charon, providing new targets to enhance the mission’s scientific return. And Hubble has provided the most sensitive search yet for potentially hazardous dust rings around the Pluto. Hubble also has made a detailed map of the dwarf planet’s surface, which astronomers are using to plan New Horizon’s close-up reconnaissance photos.
    In addition to Pluto exploration, recent Hubble solar system observations have discovered a new satellite around Neptune, probed the magnetospheres of the gas-giant planets, found circumstantial evidence for oceans on Europa, and uncovered several bizarre cases of asteroids disintegrating before our eyes. Hubble has supported numerous NASA Mars missions by monitoring the Red Planet’s seasonal atmospheric changes. Hubble has made complementary observations in support of the Dawn asteroid mission, and comet flybys. In July 1994, Hubble documented the never-before-seen string of comet collisions with Jupiter that resulted from the tidal breakup of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9.
    “The planned search for a suitable target for New Horizons further demonstrates how Hubble is effectively being used to support humankind’s initial reconnaissance of the solar system,” said Mountain. “Likewise, it is also a preview of how the powerful capabilities of the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope will further bolster planetary science. We are excited by the potential of both observatories for ongoing solar system exploration and discovery.”
    New Horizons should perform a flyby of the Pluto system on 14 July 2015.

    On New Year’s Day 2019, more than 4 billion miles from home, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will race past a small Kuiper Belt object known as 2014 MU69 – making this rocky remnant of planetary formation the farthest object ever encountered by any spacecraft.

    3
    Artist’s impression of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft encountering a Pluto-like object in the distant Kuiper Belt. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker

    4
    Path of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft toward its next potential target, the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, nicknamed “PT1” (for “Potential Target 1”) by the New Horizons team. NASA must approve any New Horizons extended mission to explore a KBO. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker.

    But over the next six weeks, the New Horizons mission team gets an “MU69” preview of sorts – and a chance to gather some critical encounter-planning information – with a rare look at their target object from Earth.

    On June 3, and then again on July 10 and July 17, MU69 will occult – or block the light from – three different stars, one on each date. To observe the June 3 “stellar occultation,” more than 50 team members and collaborators are deploying along projected viewing paths in Argentina and South Africa. They’ll fix camera-equipped portable telescopes on the occultation star and watch for changes in its light that can tell them much about MU69 itself.

    “Our primary objective is to determine if there are hazards near MU69 – rings, dust or even satellites – that could affect our flight planning,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “But we also expect to learn more about its orbit and possibly determine its size and shape. All of that will help feed our flyby planning effort.”

    What Are They Looking at?

    In simplest terms, an astronomical occultation is when something moves in front of, or occults, something else. “When the moon passes in front of the sun and we have a solar eclipse, that’s one kind of occultation,” said Joel Parker, a New Horizons co-investigator from SwRI. “If you’re in the path of an eclipse, it means you’re in the path of the shadow on Earth that’s created by the moon passing between us and the sun. If you’re standing in the right place at the right time, the solar eclipse can last up to a few minutes.”

    The team will have no such luxury with the MU69 occultations. Marc Buie, the New Horizons co-investigator from SwRI who is leading the occultation observations, said that because MU69 is so small – thought to be about 25 miles (40 kilometers) across – the occultations should only last about two seconds. But scientists can learn a lot from even that, and observations from several telescopes that see different parts of the shadow can reveal information about an object’s shape as well as its brightness.

    4
    New Horizons team members prepare one of the new 16-inch telescopes for deployment to occultation observation sites in Argentina and South Africa. Credits: Kerri Beisser.

    A Space Challenge

    The mission team has 22 new, portable 16-inch (40-centimeter) telescopes at the ready, along with three other portables and over two-dozen fixed-base telescopes that will be located along the occultation path through Argentina and South Africa. But deciding exactly where to place them was a challenge.

    This particular Kuiper Belt object was discovered just three years ago, so its orbit is still largely unknown. The team used star-position data from the extensive catalog of the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission and Hubble Space Telescope position measurements of MU69 to predict the narrow occultation path.

    ESA/GAIA satellite

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    But without a precise fix on the object’s position – or on the exact path its narrow shadow might take across Earth – the team is spacing the telescope teams along “picket fence lines,” one every 6 to 18 miles (10 or 25 kilometers), to increase the odds that at least one or more of the portable telescopes will catch the center of the event and help determine the size of MU69.

    The other telescopes will provide multiple probes for debris that could be a danger to the fast-moving New Horizons spacecraft when it flies by MU69 at about 35,000 miles per hour (56,000 kilometers per hour), on Jan. 1, 2019.

    “Deploying on two different continents also maximizes our chances of having good weather,” said New Horizons Deputy Project Scientist Cathy Olkin, from SwRI. “The shadow is predicted to go across both locations and we want observers at both, because we wouldn’t want a huge storm system to come through and cloud us out — the event is too important and too fleeting to miss.”

    The team gets help from above for the July 10 occultation, adding the powerful 100-inch (2.5-meter) telescope on NASA’s airborne Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).


    NASA/DLR SOFIA

    Enlisting SOFIA, with its vantage point above the clouds, takes the bad weather factor out of the picture. The plane also should be able to improve its measurements by maneuvering into the very center of the occultation shadow. This continues a history of coordination between SOFIA and New Horizons missions. Researchers used SOFIA to make similar observations of Pluto as it passed in front of a background star, just before New Horizons flew past Pluto in 2015.

    Insight for Encounter Planning

    Any information on MU69, gathered from the skies or on the ground, is welcome. Carly Howett, deputy principal investigator of New Horizons’ Ralph instrument, of SwRI, said so little is known about MU69 that the team is planning observations of a target it doesn’t fully understand – and time to learn more about the object is short. “We were only able to start planning the MU69 encounter after we flew by Pluto in 2015,” she said. “That gives us two years, instead of almost seven years we had to plan the Pluto encounter. So it’s a very different and, in many ways, more challenging flyby to plan.”

    If weather cooperates and predicted targeting proves on track, the upcoming occultation observations could provide the first precise size and reflectivity measurements of MU69. These figures will be key to planning the flyby itself – knowing the size of the object and the reflectivity of its surface, for example, helps the team set exposure times on the spacecraft’s cameras and spectrometers.

    “Spacecraft flybys are unforgiving,” Stern said. “There are no second chances. The upcoming occultations are valuable opportunity to learn something about MU69 before our encounter, and help us plan for a very unique flyby of a scientifically important relic of the solar system’s era of formation.”

    Follow the observations in Argentina, South Africa and on board SOFIA on Facebook and Twitter using #mu69occ.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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 9:02 pm on June 2, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , NASA New Horizons   

    From New Horizons: “New Horizons Deploys Global Team for Rare Look at Next Flyby Target” 

    NASA image

    NASA

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    New Horizons

    May 25, 2017
    Editor: Bill Keeter

    1
    First look: Projected path of the 2014 MU69 occultation shadow, across South America and the southern tip of Africa, on June 3.
    Credits: Lowell Observatory/Larry Wasserman

    Mission Update: KBO Chasers

    After months of preparing for the most technically sophisticated and challenging occultation campaign in history, it’s all coming down to the wild card – will there be clear skies? Go behind the scenes with New Horizons scientists “chasing” the shadow of the mission’s next flyby target across two continents, South America and Africa. Two seconds could change everything we know about a Kuiper Belt object known as 2014 MU69, a mysterious remnant of early solar system formation.

    Kuiper Belt. Minor Planet Center

    The Kuiper Extended Mission KBO Chasers, Part 1 – Getting Ready (large) (small)
    The Kuiper Extended Mission KBO Chasers, Part 2 – Preparing for June 3, 2017 (large) (small)​

    On New Year’s Day 2019, more than 4 billion miles from home, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will race past a small Kuiper Belt object known as 2014 MU69 – making this rocky remnant of planetary formation the farthest object ever encountered by any spacecraft.

    But over the next six weeks, the New Horizons mission team gets an “MU69” preview of sorts – and a chance to gather some critical encounter-planning information – with a rare look at their target object from Earth.

    On June 3, and then again on July 10 and July 17, MU69 will occult – or block the light from – three different stars, one on each date. To observe the June 3 “stellar occultation,” more than 50 team members and collaborators are deploying along projected viewing paths in Argentina and South Africa. They’ll fix camera-equipped portable telescopes on the occultation star and watch for changes in its light that can tell them much about MU69 itself.

    “Our primary objective is to determine if there are hazards near MU69 – rings, dust or even satellites – that could affect our flight planning,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “But we also expect to learn more about its orbit and possibly determine its size and shape. All of that will help feed our flyby planning effort.”

    What Are They Looking at?

    In simplest terms, an astronomical occultation is when something moves in front of, or occults, something else. “When the moon passes in front of the sun and we have a solar eclipse, that’s one kind of occultation,” said Joel Parker, a New Horizons co-investigator from SwRI.

    “If you’re in the path of an eclipse, it means you’re in the path of the shadow on Earth that’s created by the moon passing between us and the sun. If you’re standing in the right place at the right time, the solar eclipse can last up to a few minutes.”

    The team will have no such luxury with the MU69 occultations. Marc Buie, the New Horizons co-investigator from SwRI who is leading the occultation observations, said that because MU69 is so small – thought to be about 25 miles (40 kilometers) across – the occultations should only last about two seconds. But scientists can learn a lot from even that, and observations from several telescopes that see different parts of the shadow can reveal information about an object’s shape as well as its brightness.

    2
    New Horizons team members prepare one of the new 16-inch telescopes for deployment to occultation observation sites in Argentina and South Africa. Credits: Kerri Beisser

    A Space Challenge

    The mission team has 22 new, portable 16-inch (40-centimeter) telescopes at the ready, along with three other portables and over two-dozen fixed-base telescopes that will be located along the occultation path through Argentina and South Africa. But deciding exactly where to place them was a challenge.

    This particular Kuiper Belt object was discovered just three years ago, so its orbit is still largely unknown. The team used star-position data from the extensive catalog of the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission and Hubble Space Telescope position measurements of MU69 to predict the narrow occultation path.

    ESA/GAIA satellite

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    But without a precise fix on the object’s position – or on the exact path its narrow shadow might take across Earth – the team is spacing the telescope teams along “picket fence lines,” one every 6 to 18 miles (10 or 25 kilometers), to increase the odds that at least one or more of the portable telescopes will catch the center of the event and help determine the size of MU69.

    The other telescopes will provide multiple probes for debris that could be a danger to the fast-moving New Horizons spacecraft when it flies by MU69 at about 35,000 miles per hour (56,000 kilometers per hour), on Jan. 1, 2019.

    “Deploying on two different continents also maximizes our chances of having good weather,” said New Horizons Deputy Project Scientist Cathy Olkin, from SwRI. “The shadow is predicted to go across both locations and we want observers at both, because we wouldn’t want a huge storm system to come through and cloud us out — the event is too important and too fleeting to miss.”

    The team gets help from above for the July 10 occultation, adding the powerful 100-inch (2.5-meter) telescope on NASA’s airborne Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).

    NASA/DLR SOFIA

    Enlisting SOFIA, with its vantage point above the clouds, takes the bad weather factor out of the picture. The plane also should be able to improve its measurements by maneuvering into the very center of the occultation shadow. This continues a history of coordination between SOFIA and New Horizons missions. Researchers used SOFIA to make similar observations of Pluto as it passed in front of a background star, just before New Horizons flew past Pluto in 2015.

    Insight for Encounter Planning

    Any information on MU69, gathered from the skies or on the ground, is welcome. Carly Howett, deputy principal investigator of New Horizons’ Ralph instrument, of SwRI, said so little is known about MU69 that the team is planning observations of a target it doesn’t fully understand – and time to learn more about the object is short. “We were only able to start planning the MU69 encounter after we flew by Pluto in 2015,” she said. “That gives us two years, instead of almost seven years we had to plan the Pluto encounter. So it’s a very different and, in many ways, more challenging flyby to plan.”

    If weather cooperates and predicted targeting proves on track, the upcoming occultation observations could provide the first precise size and reflectivity measurements of MU69. These figures will be key to planning the flyby itself – knowing the size of the object and the reflectivity of its surface, for example, helps the team set exposure times on the spacecraft’s cameras and spectrometers.

    “Spacecraft flybys are unforgiving,” Stern said. “There are no second chances. The upcoming occultations are valuable opportunity to learn something about MU69 before our encounter, and help us plan for a very unique flyby of a scientifically important relic of the solar system’s era of formation.”

    Follow the observations in Argentina, South Africa and on board SOFIA on Facebook and Twitter using #mu69occ.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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 9:13 pm on April 3, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA New Horizons   

    From NASA New Horizons: “New Horizons Halfway from Pluto to Next Flyby Target” 

    NASA image

    NASA

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    New Horizons

    April 3, 2017
    Tricia Talbert

    How time and our spacecraft fly – especially when you’re making history at 32,000 miles (51,500 kilometers) per hour.

    1
    A KBO among the Stars: In preparation for the New Horizons flyby of 2014 MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019, the spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) took a series of 10-second exposures of the background star field near the location of its target Kuiper Belt object (KBO). This composite image is made from 45 of these 10-second exposures taken on Jan. 28, 2017. The yellow diamond marks the predicted location of MU69 on approach, but the KBO itself was too far from the spacecraft (544 million miles, or 877 million kilometers) even for LORRI’s telescopic “eye” to detect. New Horizons expects to start seeing MU69 with LORRI in September of 2018 – and the team will use these newly acquired images of the background field to help prepare for that search on approach. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

    Continuing on its path through the outer regions of the solar system, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has now traveled half the distance from Pluto – its storied first target – to 2014 MU69, the Kuiper Belt object (KBO) it will fly past on Jan. 1, 2019. The spacecraft reached that milestone at midnight (UTC) on April 3 – or 8 p.m. ET on April 2 – when it was 486.19 million miles (782.45 million kilometers) beyond Pluto and the same distance from MU69.

    “It’s fantastic to have completed half the journey to our next flyby; that flyby will set the record for the most distant world ever explored in the history of civilization,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

    Later this week – at 21:24 UTC (or 5:24 p.m. ET) on April 7 – New Horizons will also reach the halfway point in time between closest approaches to Pluto, which occurred at 7:48 a.m. ET on July 14, 2015, and MU69, predicted for 2 a.m. ET on New Year’s Day 2019. The nearly five-day difference between the halfway markers of distance and time is due to the gravitational tug of the sun. The spacecraft is actually getting slightly slower as it pulls away from the sun’s gravity, so the spacecraft crosses the midpoint in distance a bit before it passes the midpoint in time.

    Ready for a Rest

    New Horizons will begin a new period of hibernation later this week. In fact, the spacecraft will be sleeping through the April 7 halfway timing marker to MU69, because mission operators at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, will have put the spacecraft into hibernation two hours beforehand.

    The scheduled 157-day hibernation is well-deserved; New Horizons has been “awake” for almost two and a half years, since Dec. 6, 2014. Since then, in addition to its historic Pluto encounter and 16 subsequent months of relaying the data from that encounter back to Earth, New Horizons has made breakthrough, distant observations of a dozen Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs), collected unique data on the dust and charged-particle environment of the Kuiper Belt, and studied the hydrogen gas that permeates the vast space surrounding the sun, called the heliosphere.

    “The January 2019 MU69 flyby is the next big event for us, but New Horizons is truly a mission to more broadly explore the Kuiper Belt,” said Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist from APL, in Laurel, Maryland. “In addition to MU69, we plan to study more than two-dozen other KBOs in the distance and measure the charged particle and dust environment all the way across the Kuiper Belt.”

    New Horizons is currently 3.5 billion miles (5.7 billion kilometers) from Earth; at that distance, a radio signal sent from the operations team – and traveling at light speed – needs about five hours and 20 minutes to reach the spacecraft. All spacecraft systems are healthy and operating normally, and the spacecraft is on course for its MU69 flyby.

    Follow the voyage at http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/Mission/Where-is-New-Horizons/index.php, and get the latest news and images from the mission on Facebook, Twitter and the NASA and mission team websites.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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 11:03 am on January 29, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Dwarf Planet 2007 OR10, , , , NASA New Horizons   

    From JPL-Caltech: “2007 OR10: Largest Unnamed World in the Solar System” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    May 11, 2016 [Just found this]
    Michele Johnson
    NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
    650-604-6982
    michele.johnson@nasa.gov

    Elizabeth Landau
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-6425
    Elizabeth.landau@jpl.nasa.gov

    Written by Preston Dyches
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory

    1
    New K2 results peg 2007 OR10 as the largest unnamed body in our solar system and the third largest of the current roster of about half a dozen dwarf planets. The dwarf planet Haumea has an oblong shape that is wider on its long axis than 2007 OR10, but its overall volume is smaller. Credits: Konkoly Observatory/András Pál, Hungarian Astronomical Association/Iván Éder, NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

    Dwarf planets tend to be a mysterious bunch. With the exception of Ceres, which resides in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, all members of this class of minor planets in our solar system lurk in the depths beyond Neptune. They are far from Earth – small and cold – which makes them difficult to observe, even with large telescopes. So it’s little wonder astronomers only discovered most of them in the past decade or so.

    Pluto is a prime example of this elusiveness. Before NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft visited it in 2015, the largest of the dwarf planets had appeared as little more than a fuzzy blob, even to the keen-eyed Hubble Space Telescope.

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft
    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    Given the inherent challenges in trying to observe these far-flung worlds, astronomers often need to combine data from a variety of sources in order to tease out basic details about their properties.

    Recently, a group of astronomers did just that by combining data from two space observatories to reveal something surprising: a dwarf planet named 2007 OR10 is significantly larger than previously thought.


    Access mp4 video here .
    NASA’s Kepler spacecraft observed dwarf planet 2007 OR10 for 19 days in late 2014. The object’s apparent movement (indicated by the arrow) against the stars is caused by Kepler’s changing position as it orbits the sun. The diffuse light at right is from Mars, which was near the field of view. Credits: Konkoly Observatory/László Molnár and András Pál

    NASA/Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    The results peg 2007 OR10 as the largest unnamed world in our solar system and the third largest of the current roster of about half a dozen dwarf planets. The study also found that the object is quite dark and rotating more slowly than almost any other body orbiting our sun, taking close to 45 hours to complete its daily spin.

    For their research, the scientists used NASA’s repurposed planet-hunting Kepler space telescope — its mission now known as K2 — along with the archival data from the infrared Herschel Space Observatory. Herschel was a mission of the European Space Agency with NASA participation. The research paper reporting these results is published in The Astronomical Journal.

    “K2 has made yet another important contribution in revising the size estimate of 2007 OR10. But what’s really powerful is how combining K2 and Herschel data yields such a wealth of information about the object’s physical properties,” said Geert Barentsen, Kepler/K2 research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

    ESA/Herschel spacecraft
    ESA/Herschel spacecraft

    The revised measurement of the planet’s diameter, 955 miles (1,535 kilometers), is about 60 miles (100 kilometers) greater than the next largest dwarf planet, Makemake, or about one-third smaller than Pluto. Another dwarf planet, named Haumea, has an oblong shape that is wider on its long axis than 2007 OR10, but its overall volume is smaller.

    Like its predecessor mission, K2 searches for the change in brightness of distant objects. The tiny, telltale dip in the brightness of a star can be the signature of a planet passing, or transiting, in front. But, closer to home, K2 also looks out into our solar system to observe small bodies such as comets, asteroids, moons and dwarf planets. Because of its exquisite sensitivity to small changes in brightness, Kepler is an excellent instrument for observing the brightness of distant solar system objects and how that changes as they rotate.

    Figuring out the size of small, faint objects far from Earth is tricky business. Since they appear as mere points of light, it can be a challenge to determine whether the light they emit represents a smaller, brighter object, or a larger, darker one. This is what makes it so difficult to observe 2007 OR10 — although its elliptical orbit brings it nearly as close to the sun as Neptune, it is currently twice as far from the sun as Pluto.

    Enter the dynamic duo of Kepler and Herschel.

    Previous estimates based on Herschel data alone suggested a diameter of roughly 795 miles (1,280 kilometers) for 2007 OR10. However, without a handle on the object’s rotation period, those studies were limited in their ability to estimate its overall brightness, and hence its size. The discovery of the very slow rotation by K2 was essential for the team to construct more detailed models that revealed the peculiarities of this dwarf planet. The rotation measurements even included hints of variations in brightness across its surface.

    Together, the two space telescopes allowed the team to measure the fraction of sunlight reflected by 2007 OR10 (using Kepler) and the fraction absorbed and later radiated back as heat (using Herschel). Putting these two data sets together provided an unambiguous estimation of the dwarf planet’s size and how reflective it is.

    According to the new measurements, the diameter of 2007 OR10 is some 155 miles (250 kilometers) larger than previously thought. The larger size also implies higher gravity and a very dark surface — the latter because the same amount of light is being reflected by a larger body. This dark nature is different from most dwarf planets, which are much brighter. Previous ground-based observations found 2007 OR10 has a characteristic red color, and other researchers have suggested this might be due to methane ices on its surface.

    “Our revised larger size for 2007 OR10 makes it increasingly likely the planet is covered in volatile ices of methane, carbon monoxide and nitrogen, which would be easily lost to space by a smaller object,” said András Pál at Konkoly Observatory in Budapest, Hungary, who led the research. “It’s thrilling to tease out details like this about a distant, new world — especially since it has such an exceptionally dark and reddish surface for its size.”

    As for when 2007 OR10 will finally get a name, that honor belongs to the object’s discoverers. Astronomers Meg Schwamb, Mike Brown and David Rabinowitz spotted it in 2007 as part of a survey to search for distant solar system bodies using the Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Observatory near San Diego.

    Caltech Palomar  Samuel Oschin 48 inch Telescope
    Caltech Palomar  Samuel Oschin 48 inch Telescope Interior with Edwin Hubble
    Caltech Palomar Samuel Oschin 48 inch Telescope

    “The names of Pluto-sized bodies each tell a story about the characteristics of their respective objects. In the past, we haven’t known enough about 2007 OR10 to give it a name that would do it justice,” said Schwamb. “I think we’re coming to a point where we can give 2007 OR10 its rightful name.”

    Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

    For more information about the Kepler and K2 missions, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/kepler

    More information about Herschel is online at:

    http://www.nasa.gov/herschel

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

    Caltech Logo

    NASA image

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

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

    DiscoverMag

    Discover Magazine

    October 18, 2016
    Eric Betz

    1
    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.

    2
    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 .

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  • richardmitnick 11:49 am on July 2, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA New Horizons   

    From New Horizons: “From Canada to Pluto and Beyond” 

    NASA image

    NASA

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    New Horizons

    July 1, 2016
    Alex Parker, Southwest Research Institute

    Nature is a common theme in Canadian literature, with desolate, remote landscapes often playing a role. It should come as no surprise, then, that Canada had a hand in writing the latest chapter in the story of Pluto, the most desolate and remote landscape ever explored.

    To mark the first Canada Day (July 1) since the Pluto flyby, I wanted to share some of the ways that Canadian efforts have supported the New Horizons mission to Pluto and beyond.

    A number of New Horizons team members are from Canada or were trained there in one way or another. I studied for my PhD at the University of Victoria in British Columbia; my PhD was in astrophysics, a field in which Canada is renowned as a global leader. Canada’s national partnership in the twin 8-meter Gemini observatories allowed me to pursue research in planetary astronomy, pushing the limits of what can be done with ground-based astronomical imaging without adaptive optics to explore the properties of binary systems in the Kuiper Belt. It was this work that prepared me for and eventually steered me toward the New Horizons mission, where I joined the team that discovered 2014 MU69, the post-Pluto target for a potential New Horizons extended mission.

    1
    The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (left) and the Gemini North observatory (right), at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA. These two facilities both collected critical images in support of the New Horizons mission under Canadian-led programs. Credit: Alex Parker

    Perhaps the most crucial Canadian contributions are in an area with a very long history: navigating a ship by the stars. During New Horizons’ approach to Pluto last year, it was a made-in-Canada star map that helped guide the way. National Research Council (NRC) of Canada scientists at the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre (CADC) in British Columbia used data collected from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) to assemble a detailed navigational star map for the mission, which was used by the Navigation and Hazards teams to keep the spacecraft on-course and safe from harm.

    Dr. Stephen Gwyn and Dr. JJ Kavelaars, both at the NRC-CADC, have worked to support the New Horizons mission for years. JJ Kavelaars was my PhD supervisor, and both he and Stephen Gwyn taught me much of what I know about the astrometric and image processing techniques needed to find and track New Horizons’ potential post-Pluto target, 2014 MU69.

    Gwyn developed and maintains MegaPipe, the data processing service that helps turn raw CFHT images into precisely-calibrated star maps, among other things. Using data collected from CFHT’s extremely well-calibrated MegaCam imager especially for the Pluto mission, Gwyn created a catalog the stars that would stand as a backdrop for Pluto during the flyby. The purpose of the catalog was to provide extremely precise locations and properties of the stars that would appear in New Horizons images on approach, so they could be used as navigational aids.

    Frédéric Pelletier, a former Canadian Space Agency engineer from Quebec, was the KinetX Deputy Navigation Team Chief for the Pluto flyby. He and his team compared imagery from New Horizons to the CFHT star map to determine exactly the path that New Horizons was on with respect to Pluto, and adjust its course to achieve the planned flyby. The targeting was precise enough to fly New Horizons through the shadows of both Pluto and Charon. This allowed New Horizons to examine Pluto’s atmosphere backlit by the sun, and perform detailed analysis of its chemical makeup. The Atmospheres science team is led by Dr. Randy Gladstone at SwRI, who grew up in Canada and attended the University of British Columba.

    Both Gwyn and Kavelaars are involved in our continued tracking of 2014 MU69, providing their expertise on matters of extremely high-precision astrometry of both stars and Kuiper Belt Objects. The CFHT star map is still in use for determining the precise orbit of 2014 MU69, and Kavelaars has led a Gemini Observatory program to track and refine the orbits of many other Kuiper Belt objects that New Horizons would study at long range during an extended mission.

    If an extended mission is approved, these efforts will continue to help New Horizons find its way into the unknown as it flies to worlds in the outer solar system more distant than have ever been explored.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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 11:05 am on May 27, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA New Horizons, Object 1994 JR1   

    From Astronomy: “New Horizons collects first science on a Kuiper Belt object past Pluto” 

    Astronomy magazine

    Astronomy Magazine

    May 18, 2016
    NASA

    The spacecraft has now twice observed 1994 JR1, a Kuiper Belt object orbiting more than 3 billion miles from the Sun.

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft
    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    1
    New Horizons scientists used light curve data – the variations in the brightness of light reflected from the object’s surface – to determine JR1’s rotation period of 5.4 hours. NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

    Warming up for a possible extended mission as it speeds through deep space, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has now twice observed 1994 JR1, a 90-mile-wide (145 kilometers) Kuiper Belt object (KBO) orbiting more than 3 billion miles (5 billion km) from the Sun. Science team members have used these observations to reveal new facts about this distant remnant of the early solar system.

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

    Taken with the spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on April 7-8 from a distance of about 69 million miles (111 million km), the images follow on observations from November 2015, when New Horizons detected JR1 from 170 million miles (280 million km) away.

    NASA New Horizons LORRI Camera
    NASA New Horizons LORRI Camera

    Simon Porter, a New Horizons science team member from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, said the observations contain several valuable findings. “Combining the November 2015 and April 2016 observations allows us to pinpoint the location of JR1 to within 600 miles (1,000km), far better than any small KBO,” he said, adding that the more accurate orbit also allows the science team to dispel a theory, suggested several years ago, that JR1 is a quasi-satellite of Pluto.

    From the closer vantage point of the April 2016 observations, the team also determined the object’s rotation period, observing the changes in light reflected from JR1’s surface to determine that it rotates once every 5.4 hours (or a JR1 day). “That’s relatively fast for a KBO,” said John Spencer from SwRI. “This is all part of the excitement of exploring new places and seeing things never seen before.”

    Spencer added that these observations are great practice for possible close-up looks at about 20 more ancient Kuiper Belt objects that may come in the next few years, should NASA approve an extended mission. New Horizons flew through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015, making the first close-up observations of Pluto and its family of five moons. The spacecraft is on course for an ultra-close flyby of another Kuiper Belt object, 2014 MU69, on January 1, 2019.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

     
  • richardmitnick 3:46 pm on May 24, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA New Horizons, New Horizons Collects First Science on a Post-Pluto Object   

    From New Horizons: “New Horizons Collects First Science on a Post-Pluto Object” 

    NASA image

    NASA

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    New Horizons

    May 17, 2016
    Tricia Talbert

    Warming up for a possible extended mission as it speeds through deep space, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has now twice observed 1994 JR1, a 90-mile-wide (145-kilometer-wide) Kuiper Belt object (KBO) orbiting more than 3 billion miles (5 billion kilometers) from the sun.

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

    Science team members have used these observations to reveal new facts about this distant remnant of the early solar system.

    Taken with the spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on April 7-8 from a distance of about 69 million miles (111 million kilometers), the images shatter New Horizons’ own record for the closest-ever views of this KBO in November 2015, when New Horizons detected JR1 from 170 million miles (280 million kilometers) away.

    NASA New Horizons LORRI Camera
    NASA New Horizons LORRI Camera

    Simon Porter, a New Horizons science team member from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, said the observations contain several valuable findings. “Combining the November 2015 and April 2016 observations allows us to pinpoint the location of JR1 to within 1,000 kilometers (about 600 miles), far better than any small KBO,” he said, adding that the more accurate orbit also allows the science team to dispel a theory, suggested several years ago, that JR1 is a quasi-satellite of Pluto.

    From the closer vantage point of the April 2016 observations, the team also determined the object’s rotation period, observing the changes in light reflected from JR1’s surface to determine that it rotates once every 5.4 hours (or a JR1 day). “That’s relatively fast for a KBO,” said science team member John Spencer, also from SwRI. “This is all part of the excitement of exploring new places and seeing things never seen before.”

    Spencer added that these observations are great practice for possible close-up looks at about 20 more ancient Kuiper Belt objects that may come in the next few years, should NASA approve an extended mission. New Horizons flew through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015, making the first close-up observations of Pluto and its family of five moons. The spacecraft is on course for an ultra-close flyby of another Kuiper Belt object, 2014 MU69, on Jan. 1, 2019.

    1
    Above, the first two of the 20 observations that New Horizons made of 1994 JR1 in April 2016. The Kuiper Belt object is the bright moving dot indicated by the arrow. The dots that do not move are background stars. The moving features in the top left and far right are internal camera reflections (a kind of selfie) caused by illumination by a very bright star just outside of LORRI’s field of view; the one on the left shows the three arms that hold up LORRI’s secondary mirror. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

    2
    New Horizons scientists used light curve data – the variations in the brightness of light reflected from the object’s surface – to determine JR1’s rotation period of 5.4 hours.
    Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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.

     
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