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Home | Tag Archives: Ultima Thule

Tag Archives: Ultima Thule

Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: A Cosmic Snowman on the Edge of the Solar System

On New Year’s Day the New Horizons spacecraft flew past the most distant object yet explored in our solar system, Ultima Thule. Though the flyby was quick, it will take up to 20 months for NASA to download all the data collected.

However, data that has already come in has given us interesting insight and information about this far away world. Initially thought to be a peanut or bowling pin shaped object, the truth is much more intriguing. Ultima Thule is actually two objects that began a slow waltz a couple billion years ago.

All of the planets in our solar system formed when matter left over from a long ago supernova explosion began to coalesce into larger bodies, a process known as accretion. In the Kuiper Belt, not all objects were able to complete the process to become full planets or dwarf planets, like Pluto. Instead, they remain small and irregular and are then considered planetesimals.

This was the case for Ultima and Thule, as the two bodies that make up this cosmic snowman are now being known. These two objects began their slow dance around each other until gravity eventually pulled them into a gentle contact, forever locking them into a conjoined partnership.

This new theory of its formation comes from the lack of impact evidence where the two bodies converge.

Believed to be spinning in a similar fashion to a plane propeller, it has a rotation period of about 15 hours. Interestingly, Ultima Thule is also definitively red in color, according to new images released by NASA.

This is consistent with findings of other irradiated objects in the Kuiper Belt. Images also reveal that there seems to be a lack of impact craters on the surface, though the two objects do have a mottled appearance. And Ultima Thule isn’t as reflective as one might expect from an icy world on the edge of the solar system. It only reflects about 13% of the sunlight that hits its surface.

As of now, less than 1% of all data collected by New Horizons has been downloaded and analyzed by mission scientists. So, we can expect more detailed photos and information to come throughout the year. And I’ll continue to bring you updates as they become available.

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For a daily dose of Everyday Astronomy with Amy, like and follow her Facebook Page; to read previous articles, click here.

Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: New Year, New Horizons

Once again, NASA had the world on the edge of their seats as the New Horizons spacecraft flew by the very distant Kuiper Belt object, Ultima Thule.

Since sending us those stunning images of Pluto back in 2015, New Horizons has spent the last three years on its way to 2014 MU69, also known as Ultima Thule. Thought to be an elongated, peanut or bowling pin shaped object, Ultima Thule was visited by New Horizons around 12:14am EST.

As the world celebrated the coming of the New Year, science and astronomy buffs were treated to a different kind of party as the fly-by was lived streamed on the New Horizons mission website as well as on YouTube.

Although it is uncertain if Ultima Thule is a single object, or two tiny objects in a binary orbit of one another, the distance from Ultima means that it takes roughly ten hours for data and images to come back to Earth. This means that the first images just started coming in Tuesday morning. And while NASA reports that the fly-by was a success, we can expect to see extremely clear images in the coming days as data is analyzed and images released to the public.

These images should prove to be even more dynamic in detail than those of the former ninth planet since the spacecraft came three times closer to Ultima Thule than it did with Pluto. New Horizons will not only obtain the first high-resolution pictures but will also give us detailed geological and compositional maps of the surface while simultaneously conducting sensitive searches for atmospheric activity, satellites, and rings.

Launched in 2006, New Horizons mission goal is to answer questions about the formation of our solar system by observing Kuiper Belt objects like Pluto, Ultima Thule, and possibly others.

Because these objects are so far from the Sun, they are in pristine condition and give us clues as the formation of the other worlds within out cosmic neighborhood.

Essentially, to coin a phrase, the distance of these objects keeps them nearly frozen in time. The mission will also take advantage of the unique capabilities of the New Horizons spacecraft as an observation platform in the Kuiper Belt in order to study dozens of other KBOs (Kuiper Belt Objects) in ways that cannot be don’t from Earth.

Aside from that, New Horizons will make groundbreaking measurements of dust and the heliospheric plasma environment across the Kuiper Belt as it travels through this unexplored region of the solar system.

Stay tuned here and I’ll keep you all updated with new pictures and mission information updates as they become available. You can also visit the NASA mission website.

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For a daily dose of Everyday Astronomy with Amy, like and follow her Facebook Page; to read previous articles, click here.

Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: The Best in Space for 2018

As 2018 comes to a close, I wanted to take a look back at some of the best space stories of the year and tell you about some really cool upcoming events for 2019.

Earlier this year, we watched as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launched in February sending Elon Musk’s Tesla (piloted by Starman) out into the solar system and we sat in awe as the two booster rockets made it safely back to the launch pad, landing side by side.

Back in August, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe which is currently collecting data from its highly elliptical orbit that brings it within 4 million miles of the sun. Around this same time, OsirisRex reached Bennu where it is collecting samples of the asteroid for return to Earth for detailed study. And just this month, OsirisRex confirmed the existence of water beneath the surface of Bennu.

But that’s not the only place water was found: ice was also detected on the north and south poles of the moon, as well as in the atmosphere of exoplanet HR 8799C.

Sadly, there were also some losses: both the Kepler Telescope, which made many awesome exoplanet discoveries, and the Dawn spacecraft that orbited dwarf planets Vesta and Ceres ran out of fuel, putting an end to their very successful missions. And in October, the Soyuz spacecraft was forced to abort its mission during launch due to booster separation failure.

But despite these setbacks, NASA was still able to keep us on the edge of our seats with the successful landing of InSight on the surface of Mars. This would mark its first landing on the Red Planet’s surface in over six years. And as a shining example of their many decades of space exploration, NASA also announced that the Voyager 2 probe has entered interstellar space.

But perhaps one of the most surprising of all is the announcement by NASA Chief, Jim Bridenstine, that they will be working with commercial companies for the purposes of sending humans back to the moon…to stay.

For 2019, you can expect the year to start off with a bang as New Horizons, the spacecraft that brought us those beautifully detailed pictures of Pluto, zips past Ultima Thule, a tiny little rocky body in the Kuiper Belt that’s about the size of New York City. You can watch flyby live on the mission website or on YouTube.

And on January 20th, go outside and look up, because starting at 7:36pm MST sky watchers in both North and South America will be in for a treat as the Wolf Moon turns blood red. You can expect to be outside for a while because totality doesn’t happen until about 10:12pm MST.

So, bundle up and bring your lawn chairs, because you never know what you’ll see if you just keep your eyes to the skies.

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For a daily dose of Everyday Astronomy with Amy, like and follow her Facebook Page; to read previous articles, click here.

EP ELEC 2019 728×729
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