Tagged: NASA/New Horizons Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • richardmitnick 11:06 am on January 3, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA/New Horizons,   

    From Astronomy Now: “Ultima Thule comes into focus with latest New Horizons image” 

    Astronomy Now bloc

    From Astronomy Now

    3 January 2019
    William Harwood

    New images of Ultima Thule, the small chunk of primordial debris NASA’s New Horizons probe zoomed past on New Year’s Day, came into much sharper focus on Wednesday, revealing a snowman-shaped object made up of two smaller, roughly spherical bodies that gently collided and stuck together during the birth of the Solar System 4.5 billion years ago.

    “We think what we’re looking at is perhaps the most primitive object that has yet been seen by any spacecraft and may represent a class of objects which are the oldest and most primitive objects that can be seen anywhere in the present Solar System,” said Jeff Moore, a New Horizons co-investigator.

    1

    Like a time machine of sorts, Moore said New Horizons “has brought us back to the very beginning of Solar System history, to a place where we can observe the most primordial building blocks of the planets.”

    NASA New Horizons spacecraft

    Since its discovery by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014, Ultima Thule has been little more than a dim speck of light in even the most powerful instruments.

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    By measuring how Ultima blocked out the light of a star while passing in front as viewed from Earth, researchers concluded it was an elongated body of some sort but little else was known.

    That all changed this weekend when New Horizons, now a billion miles beyond Pluto, moved close enough for its most powerful camera to begin detecting hints of structure.

    In initial images released Monday and Tuesday, taken at distances of more than 480,000 kilometres (300,000 miles), all that could be discerned was a blurry, elongated shape with thicker, lobe-like features on each end of a 32 kilometre-long body. The fuzzy shape reminded some viewers of a bowling pin or perhaps a peanut.

    “That image is so 2018,” joked Alan Stern, the principal investigator, moments before unveiling the latest photo at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory near Baltimore.

    “Meet Ultima Thule!” he said as the new image was presented on a large projection screen. “Just like with Pluto, we could not be happier. What you’re seeing is the first contact binary ever explored by spacecraft. It’s two completely separate objects that are now joined together.”

    Taken at a distance of about 80,000 kilometres (50,000 miles), well before the point of closest approach New Year’s Day, the black-and-white image shows a still somewhat blurry view of two bodies joined together at a relatively narrow neck. Researchers promptly named the large lobe “Ultima” and the smaller lobe “Thule.”

    The “bilobate” body has a distinctly reddish hue, no obvious craters and rotates once every 15 hours.

    It was the first close-up view of what is thought to be a commonplace member of the remote Kuiper Belt, a vast reservoir of icy debris beyond the orbit of Neptune.

    Kuiper Belt. Minor Planet Center

    2
    Lower-resolution colour views of Ultima Thule as mapped onto a higher-resolution black-and-white image reveal a distinctly reddish hue. Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

    Racing through space at more than 51,000 Kilometres per hour (32,000 mph), or 14 kilometers per second (nine miles per second), New Horizons passed within about 3,500 kilometres (2,200 miles) of Ultima Thule’s surface at 0533 GMT on New Year’s Day.

    Despite the enormous velocity, the dimness of the sun some 6.5 billion kilometres (4.1 billion miles) away and the distance between New Horizons and its target — roughly the same as Los Angeles to Washington D.C. — the spacecraft’s cameras were able to capture features as small as 1,500 metres (500 feet) across in the image released Wednesday.

    “It’s only really the size of something like Washington D.C.,” Stern said. “It’s about as reflective as garden variety dirt, and it’s illuminated by a sun that’s 1,900 times fainter than it is outside on a sunny day here on the Earth. So we were basically chasing it down in the dark at 32,000 mph.”

    Even sharper pictures are expected to be released on Thursday, but communications with the spacecraft, on the far side of the sun as viewed from Earth, will be interrupted between Friday and the middle of next week because of interference with the Sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona.

    The sharpest possible images are not expected to reach Earth until next month.

    3
    New Horizons scientists revealed the first close up images of Ultima Thule during a news conference at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. Image: Steven Young.

    Officially known as 2014 MU69, Ultima Thule is one of the countless chunks of debris in the Kuiper Belt thought to be left over from the original cloud of gas and dust that coalesced to form the Solar System 4.6 billion years ago.

    While some of the objects in the Kuiper Belt were thrown into that icy realm by gravitational interactions with planets in the distant past, Ultima Thule travels slowly around the Sun in a near-circular orbit indicating it has been in the same location for virtually the entire history of the Solar System.

    As such, it is known as a “cold classical” Kuiper Belt object, or KBO. Moore said it appeared to be a textbook example of a long-theorized planet-building process.

    “What we think we’re looking at is the end product of a process which probably took place in only a few hundred thousand or maybe a few million years at the very beginning of the formation of the Solar System,” he said.

    That process likely began with countless small pebble-like bits of debris swirling about and bunching up in larger groupings.

    “As these nodes swirl together, the processes of low-velocity collisions or in some cases gravitational interactions (cause) the rate in which things spin around in a circle to decrease,” Moore said.

    “So this process would operate initially to bring a few large clumps together, maybe that’s how Ultima and Thule as separate objects formed, and then as the last few bits and pieces of their local swirl are ejected or else collide, the amount of energy that’s still left in the system is so little that the two lobes come together.”

    4

    He said Ultima and Thule likely collided at a velocity of a few miles per hour at most.

    “So the real bottom line is both the nearly spherical shape of the individual lobes as well as the fact that the two lobes came together so perfectly without any basically collisional damage … is a strong indication that it’s all formed through accretion as opposed to some other mechanism,” he said.

    Studying a cold classical KBO like Ultima Thule is important “because they’re the building blocks of the small planets like Pluto, this new class of planets we call dwarf planets that are more populous than the Earth-like terrestrial planets and the giant planets combined,” Stern said in an earlier interview.

    “It’s this third class that we have barely begun to explore, and Ultima Thule is one of these objects that we believe went into their formation.”

    To collect that data, New Horizons is equipped with six primary instruments: an imaging spectrometer known as Alice, a multi-spectral visible light camera nicknamed Ralph, a long-range reconnaissance imager — LORRI — incorporating an 8-inch telescope, a solar wind particle detector, an energetic particle spectrometer and a student-built dust counter.

    In addition, its radio system includes circuity enabling precise analysis of changes caused when signals from Earth pass through an atmosphere.

    Data is stored on redundant eight-gigabyte solid-state recorders and sent back to Earth with a transmitter that operates on less power than a refrigerator light bulb.

    Because of that low signal strength, the enormous distance between New Horizons and Earth and other demands on NASA’s Deep Space Network tracking antennas, it will take some 20 months for the spacecraft to transmit all the data collected during the Ultima Thule flyby.

    Stern says flight controllers will be on the lookout for any other Kuiper Belt objects that might be found close enough to New Horizons’ trajectory to reach in the years ahead. The nuclear-powered probe is expected to remain operational throughout the 2020s and has enough on-board propellant to carry out at least one more close encounter.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

     
  • richardmitnick 9:25 am on January 2, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA/New Horizons, Occultations,   

    From AAS NOVA: “Occultations Suggest No Rings for Ultima Thule” 

    AASNOVA

    From AAS NOVA

    2 January 2019
    Susanna Kohler

    1
    Artist’s impression of the New Horizons spacecraft’s fly-by of Ultima Thule, a distant solar-system object. [JHUAPL/SwRI]

    What did you do on New Year’s Eve this year? Whatever it was, it probably wasn’t quite as extreme as what the New Horizons spacecraft was doing: passing by 2014 MU69 in the most distant fly-by of any object in our solar system.

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    Today, we’ll get our first detailed look at 2014 MU69 — nicknamed Ultima Thule — from high-resolution data arriving from New Horizons. But while we wait, we can take a moment to explore what we’ve already learned about this small body in our outer solar system.

    2
    A first, low-resolution image of Ultima Thule from New Horizons, taken on 31 Dec 2018, just before the spacecraft’s closest approach. The right inset shows an artist’s sketch of Ultima Thule’s possible shape. [NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI; James Tuttle Keane]

    A Distant Target

    Ultima Thule is a trans-Neptunian object located in the Kuiper belt, the icy disk in the outer solar system that contains leftover material from when the Sun was born.

    Kuiper Belt. Minor Planet Center

    After the New Horizons spacecraft arrived at Pluto, scientists chose Ultima Thule — a body of perhaps a few tens of kilometers in size — as New Horizons’s next target for visitation.

    Why fly by Ultima Thule? This target offered a rare opportunity to learn more about the geology and morphology of objects in our outer solar system. In particular, scientists hoped to learn about its surface composition, its structure, and whether it hosts moonlets, a coma, or rings.

    But fly-by data from New Horizons is not the only means we have of observing such distant bodies — and almost as soon as the target was selected, stalking of Ultima Thule began. Through what are known as occultation observations, scientists have already learned quite a bit about the previously unknown 2014 MU69.

    An occultation occurs when an apparently larger body passes in front of an apparently smaller one.

    3
    As 2014 MU69 — Ultima Thule — passes in front of a background star, this occultation can be observed from Earth with carefully placed lines of ground telescopes or with NASA/DLR SOFIA, an airborne observatory. [NASA]

    NASA/DLR SOFIA

    Stalking Occultations

    In a recently published study led by Eliot Young (Southwest Research Institute), a team of scientists detailed their search for evidence of rings around Ultima Thule using occultation observations.

    Young and collaborators explored data obtained on three dates in the summer of 2017: on 3 June, from South Africa and Argentina, on 10 June, from the airborne observatory SOFIA, and on 17 July, from Argentina. On these days, telescopes were assembled with the goal of catching 2014 MU69 as it crossed in front of a background star, briefly blocking the star’s light.

    The light curves produced by these occultations allowed the team to explore whether Ultima Thule is encircled by additionally light-blocking rings.

    4
    An example of candidate rings (red ellipses) ruled out by occultation observations on 17 July 2018 (yellow lines and map in the right panel). [Young et al. 2018]

    Ruling Out Rings

    Young and collaborators produced a set of 62 million different models for rings around Ultima Thule. The authors then compared these predicted light curves to actual light curves captured during Ultima Thule’s occultations.

    The result? Ultima Thule seems highly unlikely to host any rings: rings with radii up to 1,000 km and radial widths of ~720 meters are inconsistent with the occultation light curves, and any ring larger than 1,000 km in radius would produce enough light to have been detected in Hubble Space Telescope imaging.

    So far, this apparent lack of rings is consistent with the low-resolution images we’ve received from New Horizons’s fly-by. Today — and in the months to come — we’ll find out what is revealed in higher resolution images and data. As always, it’s exciting to watch science in action!

    Citation

    “Limits on a Ring System at 2014 MU69 from Recent Stellar Occultations,” Eliot F. Young et al 2018 Res. Notes AAS 2 224. http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/2515-5172/aaf574/meta

    See the full article here .


    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    1

    AAS Mission and Vision Statement

    The mission of the American Astronomical Societyis to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the Universe.

    The Society, through its publications, disseminates and archives the results of astronomical research. The Society also communicates and explains our understanding of the universe to the public.
    The Society facilitates and strengthens the interactions among members through professional meetings and other means. The Society supports member divisions representing specialized research and astronomical interests.
    The Society represents the goals of its community of members to the nation and the world. The Society also works with other scientific and educational societies to promote the advancement of science.
    The Society, through its members, trains, mentors and supports the next generation of astronomers. The Society supports and promotes increased participation of historically underrepresented groups in astronomy.
    The Society assists its members to develop their skills in the fields of education and public outreach at all levels. The Society promotes broad interest in astronomy, which enhances science literacy and leads many to careers in science and engineering.

    Adopted June 7, 2009

     
  • richardmitnick 11:14 am on December 19, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA/New Horizons, ,   

    From New Horizons via Science Alert: “The Very First Space Event of 2019 Was Just Confirmed: Ultima Thule, Here We Come” 

    NASA image

    NASA

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    From New Horizons

    via

    Science Alert

    19 DEC 2018
    MICHELLE STARR

    Whatever you’re doing for your New Year’s celebrations, it’s not going to be as awesome as New Horizons. On New Year’s Day, the space probe will zoom right up close past an object in the Kuiper Belt called 2014 MU69 – nicknamed Ultima Thule.

    1
    Depiction of Ultima Thule. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Steve Gribben)

    This will make Ultima Thule the farthest Solar System object to be visited by a spacecraft (the Voyager probes’ last encounters were with Saturn for Voyager 1 and Neptune for Voyager 2).

    New Horizons has mostly been napping after it left Pluto behind nearly three-and-a-half years ago, in July 2015. It’s travelled a distance of nearly a billion miles (1.6 billion kilometres) since then, and it’s pretty much right on schedule.

    However, pinning down an exact date for the flyby wasn’t possible until recently, because NASA scientists had no idea what hazards exist in the space around the object.

    New Horizons sent back its first images of Ultima Thule in August, and since then, a team has been working to map those hazards so they could plot the best course to avoid them – at breakneck speeds of 50,700 kilometres per hour (31,500 miles per hour), even a tiny impact could destroy the spacecraft.

    And they can’t just take first-person control of New Horizons, swerving obstacles like you’d do in a sci-fi space plane. They need to know ahead of time what they’re dealing with, because communication with the probe is incredibly slow.

    At time of writing, New Horizons is 44.10 astronomical units from Earth – or around 6.11 light-hours. That means that, even though radio waves travel at light speed, they still take over 6 hours to reach the probe.

    2
    Composite of hundreds of images shot by LORRI. (NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

    But, of course, the New Horizons team has now seen what’s in the space around Ultima Thule using the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), and there are no hazards such as moons or rings that will hinder the trip.

    New Horizons is going to be travelling along a pretty direct line, and will reconnoitre with Ultima Thule at a distance of just 3,500 kilometres (2,200 miles).

    If it had had to detour, its flyby would have been a much greater distance, and would show Ultima Thule in less detail. The image above shows the two flyby distances. The yellow dot in the middle is Ultima Thule, and X marks the ideal flyby distance. The larger circle is the flyby distance that would have been used if hazards had been detected.

    “Our team feels like we have been riding along with the spacecraft, as if we were mariners perched on the crow’s nest of a ship, looking out for dangers ahead,” said hazards team lead Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute.

    “The team was in complete consensus that the spacecraft should remain on the closer trajectory, and mission leadership adopted our recommendation.”

    So what is Ultima Thule (pronounced thoo-lee)? Although its name is strangely reminiscent of Conan the Barbarian villain Thulsa Doom, the meaning is actually much nerdier.

    Thule was a mythical island that appeared in the far North on medieval maps; the name means “beyond Thule”, or beyond the borders of our known sphere.

    What we know about it is that it’s an irregular chunk of rock in the Kuiper belt of asteroids. It’s either two asteroids joined together, or a very close binary, with one measuring around 20 kilometres across, and the other 18 kilometres across (12 and 11 miles). It has a reddish hue, and takes over 296 years to complete one full orbit of the Sun.

    New Horizons’ closest approach will be just after midnight, at 00:33 EST, and it’s expected that it will answer some of the burning questions we have about Ultima Thule. What exactly is it? What does it look like? What makes it red? What is its surface composition? And does it have methane or ice?

    Once these questions are answered, the team will choose a formal permanent name to submit to the IAU. But for now, everyone is getting amped up for the history-making flyby.

    “The spacecraft is now targeted for the optimal flyby, over three times closer than we flew to Pluto,” said New Horizons’ principal investigator Alan Stern. “Ultima, here we come!”

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    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 2:24 pm on November 1, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A single mission could orbit Pluto and explore the Kuiper Belt, , , , , NASA/New Horizons,   

    From Spaceflight Insider: “A single mission could orbit Pluto and explore the Kuiper Belt” 

    1

    From Spaceflight Insider

    October 30th, 2018
    Laurel Kornfeld

    NASA New Horizons spacecraft

    By using multiple gravity assists and electric propulsion, a single mission could orbit Pluto and its moons, then continue on to conduct closeup studies of other dwarf planets and small Kuiper Belt Objects, according to a Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) study presented at a workshop of the 50th annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) in Knoxville, TN.

    Led by New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of SwRI, the study was funded by research grants aimed at exploring a return mission to Pluto, this time with an orbiter. While New Horizons sent back stunning images and a wealth of data about the Pluto system, its quick flyby allowed it time to image only one side of the planet in high resolution. The other side was photographed in low resolution on the spacecraft’s approach.

    1
    The next target for the New Horizons spacecraft is the distant Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule. Image Credit: NASA

    3
    Image presented of Ultima Thule

    Kuiper Belt. Minor Planet Center

    Data returned by the spacecraft raised a host of new questions about the Pluto system and quickly led scientists to consider a return mission with an orbiter.

    Other scientists who took part in the groundbreaking study, all at SwRI include spaceflight engineer Mark Tapley, planetary scientist Amanda Zangari, project manager John Scherrer, and software lead Tiffany Finley.

    A key provision of the new proposal is using gravity assists as a fuel-saving measure. New Horizons used one gravity assist from Jupiter to shorten its journey to Pluto. Similarly, an orbiter could use gravity assists from Pluto’s large moon Charon to change its orientation, allowing it to study different parts of Pluto’s surface, its atmosphere, each of its four small moons, and interactions between the system and the solar wind.

    Once it arrives at Pluto, the spacecraft could enter orbit using electric propulsion, the same technology that powered NASA’s Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres.

    NASA Dawn Spacescraft

    These methods would save fuel, enabling the orbiter to study the Pluto system for several years. After accomplishing its science objectives, the orbiter could escape the Pluto system entirely via a Charon gravity assist and head further out into the Kuiper Belt without using fuel, once again relying on electric propulsion.

    According to Tapley, this technology could enable the spacecraft to enter orbit around a second, more distant dwarf planet after Pluto.

    “This is groundbreaking. Previously, NASA and the planetary science community thought the next step in Kuiper Belt exploration would be to choose between ‘going deep’ in the study of Pluto and its moons or ‘going broad’ by examining smaller Kuiper Belt Objects and another dwarf planet for comparison to Pluto. The planetary science community debated which was the right next step. Our studies show you can do both in a single mission: it’s a game changer,” Stern emphasized.

    Finley actually designed a hypothetical mission, relying on numerous gravity assists from Charon. “This tour is far from optimized, yet it is capable of making four or five more flybys each of Pluto’s four small moons, while examining Pluto’s polar and equatorial regions using plane changes,” she explained. “The plan also allows for an extensive close-up encounter with Charon one last time to escape into the Kuiper Belt for new assignments.”

    In a separate but related study, Zangari researched potential missions to the 45 largest known Kuiper Belt Objects, including many dwarf planets, that could be done between 2025 and 2040 via gravity assists from one or more of the solar system’s gas giant planets.

    Over the next several months, the SwRI team plan to explore the ideal spacecraft for a combined Pluto orbiter-Kuiper Belt exploration mission and expect to regularly publish their findings.

    “Who would have thought that a single mission using already available electric propulsion engines could do all this? Now that our team has shown that the planetary science community doesn’t have to choose between a Pluto orbiter or flybys of other bodies in the Kuiper Belt but can have both, I call this combined mission the ‘gold standard’ for future Pluto and Kuiper Belt exploration,” Stern said.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    SpaceFlight Insiderreports on events taking place within the aerospace industry. With our team of writers and photographers, we provide an “insider’s” view of all aspects of space exploration efforts. We go so far as to take their questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations. At SpaceFlight Insider, the “insider” is not anyone on our team, but our readers.

    Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. SpaceFlight Insider is comprised of individuals located in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. Most of them are volunteers, hard-working space enthusiasts who freely give their time to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:54 am on August 12, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA/New Horizons, New Horizons may have seen a glow at the solar system’s edge,   

    From Science News: “New Horizons may have seen a glow at the solar system’s edge” 

    From Science News

    August 9, 2018
    Lisa Grossman

    The ultraviolet signal may mark a wall of hydrogen where the sun’s influence wanes.

    1
    HELLO FROM THE OTHER SIDE The sun’s journey through the galaxy may build a wall of hydrogen near the edge of the solar system (curved line to the left of this illustration). The New Horizons spacecraft may have seen evidence of just such a wall. Adler Planetarium/IBEX/NASA

    The New Horizons spacecraft has spotted an ultraviolet glow that seems to emanate from near the edge of the solar system.

    NASA New Horizons spacecraft

    That glow may come from a long-sought wall of hydrogen that represents where the sun’s influence wanes, the New Horizons team reports online August 7 in Geophysical Research Letters.

    “We’re seeing the threshold between being in the solar neighborhood and being in the galaxy,” says team member Leslie Young of the Southwest Research Institute, based in Boulder, Colo.

    Even before New Horizons flew past Pluto in 2015 (SN: 8/8/15, p. 6), the spacecraft was scanning the sky with its ultraviolet telescope to look for signs of the hydrogen wall. As the sun moves through the galaxy, it produces a constant stream of charged particles called the solar wind, which inflates a bubble around the solar system called the heliosphere. Just beyond the edge of that bubble, around 100 times farther from the sun than the Earth, uncharged hydrogen atoms in interstellar space should slow when they collide with solar wind particles. That build-up of hydrogen, or wall, should scatter ultraviolet light in a distinctive way.

    The two Voyager spacecraft saw signs of such light scattering 30 years ago.

    NASA/Voyager 1

    NASA/Voyager 2


    One of those craft has since exited the heliosphere and punched into interstellar space (SN: 10/19/13, p. 19).

    New Horizons is the first spacecraft in a position to double-check the Voyagers’ observations. It scanned the ultraviolet sky seven times from 2007 to 2017, space scientist Randy Gladstone of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio and colleagues report. As the spacecraft travelled, it saw the ultraviolet light change in a way that supports the decades-old observations. All three spacecraft saw more ultraviolet light farther from the sun than expected if there is no wall. But the team cautions that the light could also be from an unknown source farther away in the galaxy.

    “It’s really exciting if these data are able to distinguish the hydrogen wall,” says space scientist David McComas of Princeton University, who was not involved in the new work. That could help figure out the shape and variability of the solar system’s boundary (SN: 5/27/17, p. 15).

    After New Horizons flies past the outer solar system object Ultima Thule on New Year’s Day 2019 (SN Online: 3/14/18), the spacecraft will continue to look for the wall about twice each year until the mission’s end, hopefully 10 to 15 years from now, Gladstone says.

    If the ultraviolet light drops off at some point, then New Horizons may have left the wall in its rear view mirror. But if the light never fades, then its source could be farther ahead — coming from somewhere deeper in space, says team member Wayne Pryor of Central Arizona College in Coolidge.

    See the full article here .


    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

     
  • richardmitnick 8:51 pm on September 29, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA video, NASA/New Horizons   

    NASA New Horizons – Video: “New Horizons Discoveries Keep Coming” 

    NASA image

    NASA New Horizons

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    New Horizons

    NASA’s New Horizons – the fastest-ever spacecraft at launch – left Earth in 2006 and hurtled through the void at nearly one million miles per day toward a mysterious world on the solar system’s outer edge. Three billion miles (4.8 billion km) and 9 1/2 years later, the spacecraft flew-by its target: Pluto.

    First-time close-up photos of that incredible dwarf planet revealed wonders such as nitrogen glaciers flowing across the surface, mountain ranges rivaling the Rockies, possible ice volcanoes, and areas that are geologically active.

    The incredible isn’t over.

    New Horizons is on its way to new discoveries deeper in the Kuiper Belt – a region inhabited by ancient remnants from the dawn of the solar system.

    Kuiper Belt. Minor Planet Center

    New Horizons’ next mission is to execute a close flyby of Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) 2014 MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019. At about 20 miles across (30 km), 2014 MU69 is more than 10 times larger and 1,000 times more massive than typical comets.

    “MU69’s orbit indicates it is a cold classical Kuiper Belt Object, one of the most primordial objects in the solar system,” explains Alan Stern, New Horizons Principal Investigator. “Additionally, a recent telescopic observation made from Argentina leads us to believe that MU69 may be part of a binary pair, or two objects orbiting one another.”

    Meanwhile, there’s more news about Pluto.

    Images recently analyzed from New Horizons’ cameras revealed what appear to be small, low-lying isolated clouds – the first to be seen on the dwarf planet.

    Stern says, “If there are clouds, it would mean the weather on Pluto is even more complex than we imagined.”

    Other data and images from the spacecraft are showing that Pluto’s brightest surface region is among the most reflective in the solar system. Why is the surface so reflective?

    Stern explains that, “The atmosphere can snow, making bright surface deposits.”

    Another recent New Horizons discovery is landslides on Pluto’s moon Charon. These are the first landslides seen in the Kuiper Belt.

    The discoveries are far from over. The last bits of science data from the spacecraft’s July 2015 Pluto flyby reached Earth on Oct 27, 2016. Over the next few years, scientists on the New Horizons team will be scrutinizing the data. At the same time, the spacecraft will be exploring MU69, other KBOs, and the surrounding territory to solve more mysteries about the far reaches of the solar system.

    New Horizons instruments have been hard at work since well before the spacecraft arrived at Pluto.

    The Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation (PEPSSI) instrument has been measuring the composition and density of high energy charged particles in the Sun’s outer heliosphere. New Horizons’ Solar Wind Around Pluto (SWAP) instrument collected solar wind observations en route from Earth to Pluto and is still collecting them out in the Kuiper Belt. New Horizons also has a dust detector, built and conceived by students on the New Horizons team, which detects impacts of particles from asteroids and comets.

    By 2021, New Horizons will make observations out to 50 times the distance from the Earth to the sun.

    The incredible keeps coming.

    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 8:25 am on September 11, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 2014 MU69 will soon become the only Kuiper Belt object ever to be visited by a spacecraft, , , , , , NASA/New Horizons, Pluto craft wakes from hibernation today   

    From EarthSky: “Pluto craft wakes from hibernation today” 

    1

    EarthSky

    September 11, 2017
    Deborah Byrd

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    And last week mission scientists filed a flight plan for New Horizons’ next flyby – of the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 – in early 2019. It’ll be farthest encounter yet between an earthly spacecraft and distant solar system body.

    1
    This image shows New Horizons’ current position along its full planned trajectory. The green segment of the line shows where New Horizons has traveled since launch; the red indicates the spacecraft’s future path. Positions of stars with magnitude 12 or brighter are shown from this perspective, which is slightly above the orbital plane of the planets. Via Johns Hopkins’ page Where is New Horizons?

    NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft – which visited Pluto in July, 2015 – was placed in hibernation on April 7, 2017. The craft is set to be awoken today (September 11, 2017). In the meantime, the science and mission operations teams have been developing detailed command loads for New Horizon’s next encounter, a nine-day flyby of the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 on New Year’s Day, 2019. Among other things, the mission has now set the flight plan and the distance for closest approach, aiming to come three times closer to MU69 than it famously flew past Pluto in 2015.

    Hibernation reduced wear and tear on the spacecraft’s electronics, lowered operations costs and freed up NASA Deep Space Network tracking and communication resources for other missions. But New Horizons mission activity didn’t entirely stop during the hibernation period. While much of the craft is unpowered during hibernation, the onboard flight computer has continued to monitor system health and to broadcast a weekly beacon-status tone back to Earth. About once a month, the craft has sent home data on spacecraft health and safety. Onboard sequences sent in advance by mission controllers will eventually wake New Horizons to check out critical systems, gather new Kuiper Belt science data, and perform any necessary course corrections.

    2014 MU69 will soon become the only Kuiper Belt object ever to be visited by a spacecraft. It’ll be the farthest planetary encounter in history – some one billion miles (1.5 billion km) beyond Pluto and more than four billion miles (6.5 billion km) from Earth. If all goes as planned, New Horizons will come to within just 2,175 miles (3,500 km) of MU69 at closest approach, peering down on it from celestial north. The alternate plan, to be employed in certain contingency situations such as the discovery of debris near MU69, would take New Horizons within 6,000 miles (10,000 km)— still closer than the 7,800-mile (12,500-km) flyby distance to Pluto.

    The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory manages the New Horizons mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is the principal investigator and leads the mission; SwRI leads the science team, payload operations, and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. APL designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft. NASA.

    The Sleeping Spacecraft: How Hibernation Worked

    During hibernation mode, much of the New Horizons spacecraft was unpowered. The onboard flight computer monitored system health and broadcast a weekly beacon-status tone back to Earth. Onboard sequences sent in advance by mission controllers woke New Horizons two or three times each year to check out critical systems, calibrate instruments, gather some science data, rehearse Pluto-encounter activities, and perform course corrections.

    New Horizons pioneered routine cruise-flight hibernation for NASA. Not only has hibernation reduced wear and tear on the spacecraft’s electronics, it also lowered operations costs and freed up NASA Deep Space Network tracking and communication resources for other missions.

    Bottom line: The New Horizons spacecraft – famous for visiting Pluto in 2015 – will wake from a 157-day hibernation on September 11, 2017. Mission controllers have filed a flight plan for the 2019 encounter with 2014 MU69

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

     
  • richardmitnick 10:52 am on August 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA/New Horizons   

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

    Astronomy magazine

    Astronomy Magazine

    July 25, 2017
    Alison Klesman

    1
    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.

    3
    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.
    NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

    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 .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

     
  • richardmitnick 10:29 am on August 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , MU69, NASA/New Horizons   

    From Astronomy: “New Horizons may visit twice the object for the same price” 

    Astronomy magazine

    Astronomy Magazine

    August 04, 2017
    John Wenz

    MU69 could be hiding a strange secret: it’s one object, not two.

    1
    2014 MU69 is New Horizons’ next target. Now, data indicate it could be a contact binary – two objects orbiting each other so closely that they touch. NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker.

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    New Horizons is getting the ultimate two-for-one deal.

    The intrepid craft, which flew through the Pluto system in 2015, is en route to 2014 MU69, an icy remnant from our solar system’s formation that lives in the Kuiper Belt. While initially thought to be a chunk of ice less than a few dozen miles in size, a recent occultation event has revealed that MU69 might be even weirder.

    The object appears to have an odd shape, based on the occultation data (taken when an object passes in front of a background star). In a press release, NASA officials said that it’s either football shaped or, more intriguingly, a type of object called a contact binary.

    2
    If MU69 is not a contact binary, it might instead be football shaped. NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker.

    A contact binary is composed of two objects close enough that they actually touch in an orbital dance around each other that leaves them relatively intact. The comet 67P explored by ESA’s Rosetta probe is believed to be a contact binary.

    We’ll find out for sure in 2019, when New Horizons flies by the object – or objects.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

     
c
Compose new post
j
Next post/Next comment
k
Previous post/Previous comment
r
Reply
e
Edit
o
Show/Hide comments
t
Go to top
l
Go to login
h
Show/Hide help
shift + esc
Cancel
%d bloggers like this: