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Jupiter, Saturn & Beyond : New Dwarf Planets Found

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(For Sparks):

Christmas comes late, if it comes at all 

To the ultimate fools on Ultima Thule

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Ultima Thule: Dedication to G. W. G.

With favoring winds, o'er sunlit seas,
We sailed for the Hesperides,
The land where golden apples grow;
But that, ah! that was long ago.
 
How far, since then, the ocean streams
Have swept us from that land of dreams,
That land of fiction and of truth,
The lost Atlantis of our youth!
 
Whither, ah, whither? Are not these
The tempest-haunted Orcades,
Where sea-gulls scream, and breakers roar,
And wreck and sea-weed line the shore?
 
Ultima Thule! Utmost Isle!
Here in thy harbors for a while
We lower our sails; a while we rest
From the unending, endless quest.
 
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The 30-mile-wide object is a resident of the Kuiper belt, a region thought to be populated by relatively pristine leftovers of the dust and gas that birthed the planets. By getting in close with New Horizons, scientists hope to reveal profound insights into the solar system's formation. But Alan Stern, the mission's principal investigator, emphasizes the many unknowns that MU69 presents.

. . . Before scientists can reap MU69's scientific bounty, though, they must successfully navigate the spacecraft to a target roughly four billion miles away. Since MU69 was discovered only four-and-a-half years ago, astronomers don't have a ton of data to help plot its orbital path. And since the object is so small and dim relative to Pluto, it's challenging to track it across the night sky—especially as the galaxy's bright stars shine in the background.

> Natl Geo: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/12/go-behind-scenes-new-horizons-mission-ultima-thule-beyond-pluto/

Ultima Thule Shines a Puzzling Light As New Horizons Spacecraft Approaches

There's something weird going on with Ultima Thule, the distant object that NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will fly by just 10 days from now.

New Horizons team members don't think the 23-mile-wide (37 kilometers) Ultima is spherical; rather, the available data suggest that it's elongated or is perhaps even composed of two close-orbiting bodies. So, mission scientists were expecting to see a substantial "light curve" from Ultima: significant changes in brightness corresponding to different orientations of the object as it rotates.

But that's not what New Horizons observations in the lead-up to the epic New Year's Day encounter have shown. Instead, Ultima's brightness is relatively constant, like that of a spherical body.

"It's really a puzzle," New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement yesterday (Dec. 20). "I call this Ultima's first puzzle — why does it have such a tiny light curve that we can't even detect it? I expect the detailed flyby images coming soon to give us many more mysteries, but I did not expect this, and so soon."

Team members have come up with several possible explanations. For example, maybe Ultima's pole of rotation just happens to be pointed directly at New Horizons, minimizing the brightness variations seen by the spacecraft.

It's also possible that Ultima, which lies more than 4 billion miles (6.4 billion km) from the sun, is surrounded by a light-blocking cloud of dust, like the coma around a comet's nucleus. But an energy source would be required to generate such a feature, and it's unclear what that source would be. (The sun couldn't do the trick way out in Ultima's cold, dark environs, mission team members said.)

"An even more bizarre scenario is one in which Ultima is surrounded by many tiny, tumbling moons," Anne Verbiscer, a New Horizons assistant project scientist at the University of Virginia, said in the same statement. "If each moon has its own light curve, then together, they could create a jumbled superposition of light curves that make it look to New Horizons like Ultima has a small light curve."

If this is what's going on, it would be unprecedented. No solar system body is known to have such a satellite setup, Verbiscer said.

"It's hard to say which of these ideas is right," Stern said. "Perhaps it's even something we haven't even thought of. In any case, we'll get to the bottom of this puzzle soon — New Horizons will swoop over Ultima and take high-resolution images on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, and the first of those images will be available on Earth just a day later. When we see those high-resolution images, we'll know the answer to Ultima's vexing, first puzzle. Stay tuned!"

> https://www.space.com/42824-new-horizons-ultima-thule-mystery.html

 

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Images of Broken Light... Across the Universe

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft passed by Ultima Thule, a Manhattan-sized rock a billion miles farther out from its Pluto passage in 2015.

NASA spacecraft signals from most distant object EVER visited...

Billion miles BEYOND Pluto...

The full scope of observations made by New Horizons will take nearly 2 years to beam back to Earth because it traveled so far.

Team members gathered at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, home to Mission Control, cheer upon receiving the signal, which took so long to reach them because the small, icy object is 4 billion miles from the Earth and 1 billion miles from Pluto.

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Mostly white guys made this happen (Get over it!)

Though the closest point of the flyby, only 2,200 miles above Ultima Thule’s surface, occurred just after midnight, the spacecraft was pointed at the object for a few more hours with its antenna, rigidly locked to the spacecraft body, pointing away from Earth. And once the spacecraft rotated to send a burst of housekeeping data back to NASA’s Deep Space Network radio telescope in Madrid, the signal then took 6 hours and 7 minutes at the speed of light to reach Earth. Comparing that travel time with the eight minutes it takes light from the Sun to reach Earth or the slightly over one second that it takes light from the Moon to reach Earth shows how far away the encounter with Ultima Thule was.

. . . The audience at JHUAPL cheered as they watched the control room on a video feed as system after system reported “green,” meaning success. And one signal showed that the Solid State Recorder’s computer memory was full, indicating that the spacecraft took its quota of data.

At a press conference an hour later, Principal Investigator Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute of Boulder, Colorado, led a team reporting on what is known, though the images from last night won’t be available until Wednesday.

“I don’t know about you, I’m liking this 2019 thing so far,” joked Stern. Mission Operations chief Alice Bowman reported on the data successfully received via the Madrid station of the Deep Space Network.

Stern summarized his team's accomplishments by saying, “They scored 100 on the test.”

 

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New Horizons' flyby of Ultima Thule with Alan Stern

 

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FROSTY Snowman? "he'll return someday"

NASA: Icy object past Pluto looks like reddish snowman....

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LAUREL, Md. (AP) — A NASA spacecraft 4 billion miles from Earth yielded its first close-up pictures Wednesday of the most distant celestial object ever explored, depicting what looks like a reddish snowman.

Ultima Thule, as the small, icy object has been dubbed, was found to consist of two fused-together spheres, one of them three times bigger than the other, extending about 21 miles (33 kilometers) in length.

NASA’s New Horizons, the spacecraft that sent back pictures of Pluto 3½ years ago, swept past the ancient, mysterious object early on New Year’s Day. It is 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto.

On Tuesday, based on early, fuzzy images taken the day before, scientists said Ultima Thule resembled a bowling pin. But when better, closer pictures arrived, a new consensus emerged Wednesday.

“The bowling pin is gone. It’s a snowman!” lead scientist Alan Stern informed the world from Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory , home to Mission Control in Laurel. The bowling pin image is “so 2018,” joked Stern, who is with the Southwest Research Institute.

The celestial body was nicknamed Ultima Thule — meaning “beyond the known world” — before scientists could say for sure whether it was one object or two. With the arrival of the photos, they are now calling the bigger sphere Ultima and the smaller one Thule.

Thule is estimated to be 9 miles (14 kilometers) across, while Ultima is thought to be 12 miles (19 kilometers).

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8100900-6555427-image-a-10_1546546426489

Ultima Thule in 3D: NASA releases new stereo image of distant Kuiper Belt object as the New Horizons team reveals they have not yet found any moons or an atmosphere

  • NASA has released a new batch of images of Ultima Thule after the historic New Horizons flyby this week 
  • New Horizons made its closest approach to Ultima Thule at 12:33 a.m. (ET) Jan 1st, 4 billion miles from Earth  
  • At 10:31am the following morning the craft 'phoned home' to confirm flyby was a success   
  • It will take 20 months to get all data, and highest resolution images will not be beamed down until February 
  • First clear images show it's two objects resting on one another, appearing like a snowman or Star Wars' BB-8 

ultima-thule.jpg

New Horizons is now three million miles deeper into the Kuiper Belt than it was at the time of the flyby. But, now that its work at Ultima Thule is complete, there's much to be learned from the data, the team explains

New Horizons is now three million miles deeper into the Kuiper Belt than it was at the time of the flyby.

But, now that its work at Ultima Thule is complete, there's much to be learned from the data, the team explains.

It's still too early to know what's responsible for the variations in brightness across the surface, or if the oddly-shaped world has any moons.  

'The first exploration of a small Kuiper Belt object and the most distant exploration of any world in history is now history, but almost all of the data analysis lies in the future,' said Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

So far, though, much about Ultima Thule appears to match up with the other small worlds floating around in the Kuiper Belt.

> https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-6555427/Ultima-Thule-3D-NASA-releases-new-stereo-image-distant-Kuiper-Belt-object.html

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