New Horizons returns finest view but of Ultima Thule – Astronomy Now

February 23, 2019 - Comment

Ultima Thule, as seen by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft close to shut method on 1 January. Picture: NASA/Johns Hopkins Utilized Physics Laboratory/Southwest Analysis Institute, Nationwide Optical Astronomy Observatory Simply six-and-a-half minutes earlier than the New Horizons spacecraft made its closest method to Ultima Thule, a primitive Kuiper Belt physique a billion miles previous Pluto, the



Ultima Thule, as seen by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft close to shut method on 1 January. Picture: NASA/Johns Hopkins Utilized Physics Laboratory/Southwest Analysis Institute, Nationwide Optical Astronomy Observatory

Simply six-and-a-half minutes earlier than the New Horizons spacecraft made its closest method to Ultima Thule, a primitive Kuiper Belt physique a billion miles previous Pluto, the probe’s Lengthy-Vary Reconnaissance Imager digicam captured this beautiful view of the unusually clean, bi-lobed object

Engineers thought of the photographs a “stretch purpose” for the New 12 months’s Day flyby due to the spacecraft’s excessive velocity and the dim setting of the outer photo voltaic system. At closest method, New Horizons was simply three,500 kilometres (2,200 miles) from Ultima Thule, thrice nearer to its goal than when the spacecraft raced previous Pluto in July 2015.

“Getting these pictures required us to know exactly the place each tiny Ultima and New Horizons had been — second by second – as they handed each other at over 32,000 miles per hour within the dim gentle of the Kuiper Belt, a billion miles past Pluto,” mentioned Alan Stern, the New Horizons principal investigator. “This was a a lot more durable commentary than something we had tried in our 2015 Pluto flyby.

“These stretch purpose observations had been dangerous, as a result of there was an actual likelihood we’d solely get half and even none of Ultima within the digicam’s slim subject of view. However the science, operations and navigation groups nailed it, and the result’s a subject day for our science workforce! Among the particulars we now see on Ultima Thule’s floor are in contrast to any object ever explored earlier than.”

With a decision of 33 metres (110 toes) per pixel, the brand new picture reveals many particulars that weren’t obvious in earlier pictures, together with a number of brilliant, roughly round patches and quite a few small, darkish pits close to the terminator.

“Whether or not these options are craters produced by impactors, sublimation pits, collapse pits, or one thing completely completely different, is being debated in our science workforce,” mentioned deputy challenge scientist John Spencer.



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